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Control of the midday sun using speed-lights ! Strobist Style

Published August 17th, 2012

Just writing about my shoot for others to take from it what they like, I am semi-pro weekend warrior enjoying my photography, working the fabulous Ellie Powels for her growing fashion portfolio. Please feel free to comment on my methods and results.

I have had this abandoned factory shoot in mind for quite some time. Ellie and I had tried several times to set a date when the wonderful British weather has let us down. Finally we were blessed with a sunny day, but both of us could only shoot for a couple of hours and it had to be over the lunch time period.

This can lead to a number of problems when when working at this time of day and needing flash lighting. I nearly always use location based flash lighting for my model shoots, I have become proficient enough to really enjoy getting the most of set of batteries running hot in my SB600 and SB25.... they get a good hammering and this shoot what going to push this to the limit.

My shoots rely on me dropping the abient light a stop or two by under exposing the daylight background. I then concentrate on setting up the speed lights. Today was full sun, I needed to get the location to help out provide some darker areas so that I could save some battery life for later. We located ourselves for the most part under and on the emergency escape stairway on the outside of the building. Great location it reminded me of a ship.

Take a look and these images and I will add details of lighting as a caption for each one. It was a great shoot, I burned through 2 sets of batteries (16AA's) Its hard work making these lights overcome the power of the sun, but it just goes to prove that you really don't need huge flash systems miles of cables, power packs, and a massive team to make fabulous images.

Just Ellie and I working hard for a few hours produced the shots we were looking for and ultimately very happy with. I hope you enjoy the images as much as we did creating them. I also hope you enjoy this story.

Details: I always shoot manual setup, No iTTL cos I just don't understand how it works to get the results I want, its too complicated, I find it much easier to just underexpose ambient and fill with the speed-light until I like what I see. ( Am I glad its digital ...yep darn right I am, it would have been impossible to do in Film days, and oh don't ask about "metering" I don't own a light meter).

Gear used:

Nikon SB25 Bare on stand

Nikon SB600 Bare on stand

Nikon D300s, 18-200mm, 11-16mm, 50mm

Ebay Wireless triggers.

Polarising filter on the 18-200mm

Lots of batteries

Sometimes a monopod.

Stars and Stripes .... yep

Using the shade under the stair well helps in reducing the ambient, 2 stop below, allowing the speed lights at 1/2 power to break through the harsh sun, the location had great shadows to play with, both from the natural sunshine though the staircase metal work and from the positioning of my speed-lights, Having control over light and dark areas what really fun to play with.

Had great fun on this shoot. And love the results.... I am possibly wasted talent and really should take photography as my career, oh well bills to pay so back to the day job. I am please with the results and amazed what can be done with £3k worth of kit a good model and a couple of hours in the sun.

  • July 22nd, 2012
  • Nikon D300S
  • 44mm / f/9 / 1/200 sec

High lives

On the gantry, this was tough, I had to really hunt around trying to get the light on to Ellie and keep the high sun flare in the shot, a very patient model is needed too. The SB25 used at full power and just out of shot, placed up on the gantry with Ellie. Ebay wireless trigger used to fire. Hard work but we got the shot. One SB25 Bare Camera right 4ft away on full power.

  • July 22nd, 2012
  • Nikon D300S
  • 18mm / f/6.3 / 1/250 sec

Darn it !

Just some fun, again using the shade of the staircase and the shadows. Adding SB's both camera left and right, 3-4 ft away. Moving these around and firing them through gaps in the steelwork allowed me to "play" with light and dark areas being cast over Ellie.

  • July 22nd, 2012
  • Nikon D300S
  • 32mm / f/9 / 1/200 sec


Again using the SB's either side of Ellie but this time placing one high and one low, both are bare, I think both set on 1/2 power and approx 3ft , I was able to get good light balance over most of her, but also angling them back to bounce a little onto the blue metal clad background, lifting it and creating a good fade and some darker horizontal shadows, this stops the background looking too flat.

  • July 22nd, 2012
  • Nikon D300S
  • 80mm / f/9 / 1/200 sec


Working again today with Model Ellie Powels ... god its a tough life sometimes.

Again good light on to Ellie for the close up work, using one SB low and angled up to light the front of Ellie and one camera left to make the shadow outline of her against the blue metal cladding, both lights on 1/2 power but simply placed at different distances from Ellie to create the look I wanted. I find it much easy just to get up and move the light either closer or further away, rather then use a light meter and then change setting, its all to slow for me, just move the light 1 ft bach or forward, with light falling off at the rate formed by the wonderful inverse square law it really does not take long to work this stuff out as your shooting.

  • July 22nd, 2012
  • Nikon D300S
  • 105mm / f/9 / 1/200 sec


This was the toughest shot of the day, I really wanted a full sun flare shot but prevent the front of my model turning into the dark lord. This shot was hard, I think I took 10-20 takes, I had to hold the SB600, (not the 25 as its heavier) out on the end of the stand. I folded up the legs of the stand and used it as a hand held boom arm. So in leaning out over the 2 story staircase and D300s in one hand and the makeshift boom in the other I finally got the shot. SB set to full power.

  • July 22nd, 2012
  • Nikon D300S
  • 11mm / f/11 / 1/320 sec

Back to Front

This shot was taking simply, Eliie is stunning and has a great little bottom and I though it worth spending some time making a great shot of it. Symmetry was the key here, as you can see from the shot I aligned myself and Eliie with good symmetry and positioned the SB's in the same way, either side of the camera and set to 1/4 low and pointing 45 deg inward toward Ellie.

Phew end of a tough, hot but rewarding shoot. Thanks to Ellie for taking the time our to shoot and for being patient while I set up, its not easy on your own doing shoots like this, but I love the technical challenge and I often find the harder the shoot the better the results.
I hope you have enjoyed the read and I maybe I have provided something interesting some of you might try for yourselves.

  • July 22nd, 2012
  • Nikon D300S
  • 35mm / f/10 / 1/200 sec

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Red Yeoman  about 5 years ago

Good Job

simon peckham  about 5 years ago

Thanks Red