Faking a sunset

One of the things that makes professional photography 'professional' is being able to create repeatable results, let's have a chat about the most common example of this. Faking sunsets.

This happens a lot: you see a photographer's portfolio and gush over beautiful lighting, but the day comes for your shoot/wedding and England strikes with it's grey overcast skies. Photographs are all about the light, that's literally what it means (phōtos-light, graphé-drawing) 'drawing with light'.

A photograph of a subject can only be as good as the light, so photographers need to have ways of manipulating ambient light so we can create beautiful light in terrible weather. The art here is in finding ways to fake what could feasibly be ambient light, but in a lot of circumstances you don't want it to look fake.

Here's an example from a Wedding, the reception was outdoors on a country hillside but the sun wasn't coming out to play, so I set up a remotely firing strobe on a tall tripod with an orange gel to make it flash sunset coloured light whenever I took a photo. Positioned high enough to look like the light is coming from the horizon where we all wish the sun was. Using this fake sunset as both a compositional element, and as a nicely coloured rim light for the guests.

Another recent use for this technique was a commercial job for a Sheffield Dentists surgery, the client really wanted to present a warm atmosphere for a normally very clinical environment. I suggested lighting the interior of the surgery in a clean white light but having warm light coming in through the window, giving the look as if the sun was in the perfect place to come through the window. It's a lighting effect that will naturally occur, very rarely, but through the wonders of photography we can create it anytime. See below the group shot featuring the finished lighting, and then click through the following pictures to see the BTS. The rooms existing lighting is an ugly florescent strip, so I used a large softbox to give the white light from the same direction as the existing light but much brighter and softer for my subjects. Then set up a speedlight with an orange gel outside at a high (sun-like) angle, aiming at the window. The end result is a photograph that is 10x better than the real lighting, but it looks natural, you look at it and intuitively think the white light is coming from the ceiling florescent and the orange light is coming from the sunset outside.

The last example for this post is from a sunrise dancer photoshoot in the Peak District, we got out there unsociably early to shoot in the glorious countryside sunrise light before I had to run off and teach some morning Spinning classes. However, England being England, there were clouds all over the shop. The sky looked good, blue with broken clouds, but there were dense clouds by the horizon completely blocking the sunrise. I used a strobe in a softbox with the exterior baffle removed to give a harder edge to the light and once again, gelled the light orange. It provided a beautiful tonal contrast to the blue sky, rimmed his physique, and looks natural as if it was the sun kissed glow itself.

So, don't let bad lighting and weather stop you! This type of technique is infinitely useful in Wedding, Portraiture, Commercial, and property photography. Don't let a exclusively 'natural light' photographer let you think they can repeat their results, as unfortunately there are too many variables that we as Photographers should be able to control. You don't want to leave your Wedding down to luck of the day. Let me know any times you've used off camera flash to simulate and improve upon existing light in the comments or on my Instagram!