Backlit Golden Hour Portraits

adamhiram

No longer a newbie, moving up!
Joined
Feb 6, 2015
Messages
717
Reaction score
453
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
I have always been intrigued by the idea of simulating golden hour with a gelled strobe, and my wife was kind enough to assist. It seems like whenever I scout a good location for natural light family photos, either the timing is off, the weather doesn't cooperate, or the sun is coming from the wrong direction. Having the ability to put the sun where I want it and shoot when it is convenient for me or the subjects comes with many advantages, as well as its own challenges.

I am primarily looking for feedback on the lighting, but any CC is appreciated.

Examples & tutorials
  • Pye Jirsa had one of the best tutorials I have seen on this, which can be found here (and here). He provides a great technical explanation of adding an orange glow using a double CTO gel, and placing the light far enough away that it appears to be in the same place as you would expect to see the actual sun, and casts an orange wash over the entire scene, not just the subject. The main challenge I had in following his example is he missed golden hour and was shooting at dusk when it's easy enough to shoot wide open and add flash without overexposing. I was hoping for something I could use in open shade or on an overcast day.
  • Vanessa Joy had a similar tutorial here that explained many of the same concepts, but she moved the strobe off to the side to better illuminate the background. I found this quite helpful, as no matter how far back I moved the strobe behind the subject, eventually there would still be open space behind the strobe that did not have an orange cast on it.
  • Mark Wallace had a tutorial here where he did the same thing in bright direct sunlight. My main take-away here was how to get my shutter speed down to 1/200 in order to use a strobe without exceeding the maximum sync speed. He used a variable ND filter, while I figured it would be easy enough to just use HSS. It cost me 2/3 of a stop of light, which is better than the 2 stop ND filter I would have needed in midday sun.
Summary
  • Ambient exposure and shutter speed: My first challenge was getting the shutter speed down to 1/200 while shooting wide open so I could add strobe without overexposing. At ISO 100, I was looking at 1/800s for correct exposure in open shade on a sunny day, 1/500s on a cloudy day, and still 1/320s in completely overcast conditions. Shooting at 135mm I could certainly close down the aperture a bit to get an extra stop of shutter speed, and there is a "Lo" ISO setting that effectively shoots at ISO 50, so I had some room to work with. HSS was another option, assuming I had enough flash power (I did). Ultimately, the shaded location I used allowed me to shoot wide open at 1/200s at ISO 100 and be slightly underexposed, which was pretty ideal.
  • Location: I returned to a favorite park with a wooden arch bridge over a stream next to a lake. I have shot here in the fall and it is always in full shade, making it easy to work with. However, apparently in the summer the sun is higher in the sky and that bridge is in full or dappled sun. Fortunately, there was a lot of open space next to the lake that was in pretty deep shade under a canopy of parallel trees that framed the subject nicely.
  • Lighting: I used a Flashpoint Xplor 400Pro strobe with the stock 4" reflector and a double CTO gel, fired at full power. I placed the light about 75' behind the subject, and moved it around, from directly behind the subject, to in the frame next to the subject, to fully out of the frame just off to the side.
  • Lens flare: Or lack thereof. I never thought I would be able to put a 400Ws bare bulb strobe firing at full power directly at the camera in the frame and not get any lens flare. Nikon's Z lenses have such little flare that I decided to switch to my Sigma 135mm just to add some. I still wasn't able to get it to flare in most shots, which would be a good thing any other time!
  • Fill light: I did NOT use a fill light, but I toyed with the idea of increasing shutter speed to darken the frame overall, and adding a front fill (key?) light to illuminate the subject's face. I will experiment with that some other time, but I came across some great examples here (loop lighting from softbox) and here (on-axis fill from on camera flash) that here that produced very pleasing results.
  • Settings: These were shot on a Z6II and Sigma 135mm f/1.8 lens at 135mm, f/1.8, 1/200s, ISO 100.

#1 Strobe out of frame, camera left
I think this setup provided the most pleasing light, creating a nice wash of orange across both the background and wrapping around the subject's face.

20210605-DSC_3353a by adamhiram, on Flickr

#2 Strobe directly behind subject
This provided a nice backlight look, but left the subject's face in complete shadow. With this much ambient light, it was easy enough to lift the shadows for a correct exposure, but I think this is where some subtle front fill would have been a nice touch, either from a reflector or 2nd strobe. Also worth noting, you can clearly see the line in the background where the orange wash starts in front of the strobe, even at 75' away. I think for this technique to work, there needs to be a definitive background element that is illuminated by the strobe in order to include any background in the shot, otherwise it will always be missing the color cast behind the strobe.

20210605-DSC_3372a by adamhiram, on Flickr

#3 Strobe in frame
I have mixed feelings about this setup. Ultimately I like the results, but I expected a lot more lens flare from the bare bulb flash being in the frame. I'm curious what others think of the light placement here, and if it would be better off elsewhere in the frame or just kept out of the frame entirely.

20210605-DSC_3414a by adamhiram, on Flickr

Thank you very much for any feedback!
 

smoke665

TPF Supporters
Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 29, 2016
Messages
12,651
Reaction score
6,260
Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
@adamhiram as always, excellent write up, documentation and study!!! Anyone reading will gain something from it. Beautiful subject with a beautiful smile.....I see now where your son gets his from.

Only one thing I think you might have missed, unless I didn't catch it in the write up. You say "there was a lot of open space next to the lake that was in pretty deep shade" where you shot. You didn't say what your camera WB was set to? When shooting a gelled flash in combination with ambient light, you need to consider the differences in color temperature, which in almost all cases require setting a custom WB in camera.
color-temp.jpg

The ambient fill on her face was closer to 7k, you can see it in the highlights. In this case setting a custom WB in camera to somewhere around 2500-3500k will force the camera to correct the ambient on the face giving it a warmer tone, but not affecting the areas lit by the flash.
 

JBPhotog

No longer a newbie, moving up!
Joined
Mar 26, 2018
Messages
791
Reaction score
321
Location
Canada
Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
For sun position check out the Sun Seeker app for iOS. It lets you know ahead of time where the sun will be at any location, any time of day or any time of year.

There are a few approaches to this effect but controlling your WB is critical, yours is set to Auto. Warming can of course be done in post but if you are looking to get most of it done in camera, custom WB is the ticket.

To warm up the background and help your "sun" flash give more of a wash, lower your WB until you see what you like. Adding a double Full CTO will give your "sun" a warm glow. You can compensate for the fill flash on the subject by also adding CTO to it in quantities that get you to either neutral or warm, Rosco make CTO's from 2900k to 4900k, check out their site for specifics.
 
OP
adamhiram

adamhiram

No longer a newbie, moving up!
Joined
Feb 6, 2015
Messages
717
Reaction score
453
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
@adamhiram as always, excellent write up, documentation and study!!! Anyone reading will gain something from it. Beautiful subject with a beautiful smile.....I see now where your son gets his from.

Only one thing I think you might have missed, unless I didn't catch it in the write up. You say "there was a lot of open space next to the lake that was in pretty deep shade" where you shot. You didn't say what your camera WB was set to? When shooting a gelled flash in combination with ambient light, you need to consider the differences in color temperature, which in almost all cases require setting a custom WB in camera.
Thank you, you're too kind!

As for white balance, I always shoot Raw and adjust WB and tint in post. Since all the warmth came from the gelled flash (2xCTO), my starting point was a neutral exposure that I got from the ambient, which was around 4500K. For #1, I left it at 4500K since not much additional warmth was needed with the gelled light spilling onto the subject's face. For #2 and #3 where the face was more in shadow, I warmed it up to about 6000K in LR to give some extra warmth to the skin tones.

I tried warming up the images even more, but I thought that made the areas where the gelled light washed over look a bit too warm/orange. After all, I'm not just shooting with a bare bulb and warming it up in post, the golden "sun" light is coming from the gel. Perhaps my strobe/ambient is off and a darker exposure that relied more on the gelled strobe as the primary light source would be more convincing?
 
OP
adamhiram

adamhiram

No longer a newbie, moving up!
Joined
Feb 6, 2015
Messages
717
Reaction score
453
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
For sun position check out the Sun Seeker app for iOS. It lets you know ahead of time where the sun will be at any location, any time of day or any time of year.
Thanks for the recommendation, I'll check it out. However my issue has hasn't been figuring out where the sun will be in the sky and when, it's getting the subject to the location on time before the sun isn't there any more! Thus the reason for this exercise...
There are a few approaches to this effect but controlling your WB is critical, yours is set to Auto. Warming can of course be done in post but if you are looking to get most of it done in camera, custom WB is the ticket.

To warm up the background and help your "sun" flash give more of a wash, lower your WB until you see what you like. Adding a double Full CTO will give your "sun" a warm glow. You can compensate for the fill flash on the subject by also adding CTO to it in quantities that get you to either neutral or warm, Rosco make CTO's from 2900k to 4900k, check out their site for specifics.
My starting point was to get a neutral WB taken from test shots with just ambient, which was around 4500K. From there, I underexposed slightly and let the gelled strobe provide both the backlight to the hair, as well as wash across the background and hopefully wrap around the face a little. In post processing, I warmed it up a bit (bumped up to around 6000k in LR) so the shadows/ambient would still have some warmth to them.

I'm a little confused by what you're suggesting with warming up the white balance vs. gelling the strobe. 2xCTO is already a pretty deep orange, so warming it up too much further just looked like I put an orange overlay over the whole thing. I'm using a Lee 287 Double CTO gel, by the way, not that the brand makes much of a difference here. I understand that setting WB in camera can give a more accurate preview, but leaving it set to auto kept it in the ballpark of 4500-5000K, which was close enough until I got it into LR.
 

smoke665

TPF Supporters
Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 29, 2016
Messages
12,651
Reaction score
6,260
Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
I tried warming up the images even more, but I thought that made the areas where the gelled light washed over look a bit too warm/orange

It can be confusing, partly because in LR The temperture slider is opposite the actual color temperture of light. See chart in the above post, 6000k is blue light,

In any ambient light scene that you apply flash (filter or not) you have two seperate and distinct color temperatures. Any where the flash strikes the subject is one temperture and anywhere it's lit by ambient is another. Using auto WB is going to result in the camera trying to reconcile or average the difference. You can correct post but it's more difficult because it's not a global adjustment, it requires a lot of selective adjustments to both the areas lit by flash and the fill. That's why it's easier to use a manual WB in camera to normalize the difference. Here's a good refrence on CTO an CTB filters using manual in camera WB adjustment to compemsate. How to Use CTO and CTB Gels to Change the Color of Your Background . In your case your gelled flash is the background and ambient is the foreground, so setting the camera WB closer to the temperture of the flash will cause it to zero out the blue anywhere you have ambient light but not change the flash.
 
OP
adamhiram

adamhiram

No longer a newbie, moving up!
Joined
Feb 6, 2015
Messages
717
Reaction score
453
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
Here's a good refrence on CTO an CTB filters using manual in camera WB adjustment to compemsate. How to Use CTO and CTB Gels to Change the Color of Your Background . In your case your gelled flash is the background and ambient is the foreground, so setting the camera WB closer to the temperture of the flash will cause it to zero out the blue anywhere you have ambient light but not change the flash.
Ah, I see what you're saying now. However that is a different technique than what I did for this shoot. In your example, I would have used a CTB to light the subject, corrected for it using WB, therefor warming up the background. The WB setting would still affect both the ambient and gelled flash though, correcting one while adding an intentional cast on the other, and should be the same result whether WB is set in-camera or in post.

For this technique, The strobe is gelled orange and left orange to simulate the sun, and is the primary light source. Ideally, the gelled strobe should wash across the background, backlight the subject's hair, and wrap around their face with warm orange light, just like golden hour sun would do. I left a lot of ambient light in the shot because a strobe cannot illuminate the world, and the ambient acts as fill in the shadows. I warmed it up a little in post so the shadows wouldn't be too cool, but ultimately this is not a white balance trick, it is literally adding a bright orange light source positioned low and far in the background to simulate the sun.
 

smoke665

TPF Supporters
Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 29, 2016
Messages
12,651
Reaction score
6,260
Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
Ah, I see what you're saying now. However that is a different technique than what I did for this shoot. In your example, I would have used a CTB to light the subject, corrected for it using WB, therefor warming up the background. The WB setting would still affect both the ambient and gelled flash though, correcting one while adding an intentional cast on the other, and should

No in your shot the CTO gel flash is the temperture you are correcting everything else "to". In your lighting scenario, changing in camera WB to match the flash temperture will have little no effect on the temperture of your backlight it will only affect the cool/blues on the face or anywhere else you have reflected ambient light. It still works the same, your setup is just reversed from the example, instead of correcting flash fill on the subject to match the background, you're correcting ambient fill to match the flash background.

As JB mentioned above you could also do the same thing by using a fill flash with a CTO gel. Another option would have been to use a white or gold reflector (Depending on the intensity of the effect you wanted) as fill on the subject. It's all about managing different light temperatures, something you don't normally have to contend with in studio. However what if the walls of your studio were bright blue? What color would you see everywhere in your portrait that wasn't being overridden by the flash?
 
Last edited:

JBPhotog

No longer a newbie, moving up!
Joined
Mar 26, 2018
Messages
791
Reaction score
321
Location
Canada
Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
My starting point was to get a neutral WB taken from test shots with just ambient, which was around 4500K. From there, I underexposed slightly and let the gelled strobe provide both the backlight to the hair, as well as wash across the background and hopefully wrap around the face a little. In post processing, I warmed it up a bit (bumped up to around 6000k in LR) so the shadows/ambient would still have some warmth to them.

I'm a little confused by what you're suggesting with warming up the white balance vs. gelling the strobe. 2xCTO is already a pretty deep orange, so warming it up too much further just looked like I put an orange overlay over the whole thing. I'm using a Lee 287 Double CTO gel, by the way, not that the brand makes much of a difference here. I understand that setting WB in camera can give a more accurate preview, but leaving it set to auto kept it in the ballpark of 4500-5000K, which was close enough until I got it into LR.
Bear in mind WB setting in camera affects exposure. Since the JPEG rendering on the LCD is affected by WB I find it easier to adjust my WB while shooting for better histogram accuracy. You can always change WB in a Raw editor in post but a blown channel is most likely gone.

Most people experience a sun set with a wash of orange over the scene so unless your rear "sun" flash washes over the background, setting the WB to Auto may make your background elements look cool.

It really depends if you are adding fill for the subject, if not then set the WB for them, warm or not based on your preference. If you are adding flash fill then you have more control on how the background will look since you can gel the fill flash to get the desired balance on the subject in contrast to your WB setting.
 

Most reactions

New Topics

Top