Is it possible to over power the sun with a 250 watt second strobe? I wanted to know this exact answer so I did an outdoor portrait shoot with Hanna to see how my Profoto B2 strobe did against the direct sunlight.
Yes, I was able to use a 250Ws strobe to over power the sun on my outdoor portrait shoot. I had my subject facing me with the sun directly behind her. This created a very hard shadow on her front side but a well-defined rim light from the sun around the hair and shoulders. I setup my strobe on my right side facing the model with a single dome reflector. I took a few test shots to expose for the ambient light and I was able to get the results I wanted once I dialed in the power on my strobe.
Flash photography seems to be a subject that many beginner photographers shy away from. I know I did when I was just starting out. I thought it would be too expensive to get lights and triggers and everything else needed to do off camera flash.
Table of Contents
- What is overpowering the sun mean in photography?
- Profoto B2 Portraits
- How do you overpower the sun in portrait photography?
- What kind of lighting do you need?
- How do you know where to position the light for portraits?
- What camera and lens do you use to overpower the sun?
- What is high speed sync?
- Are there other ways to shoot with strobes or flash?
- Is shooting with flash hard?
- Can you use speedlights to overpower the sun?
- Issues with shooting portraits against the sun
- Accessories to consider having on hand
- Understanding light as a beginner portrait photographer
Now, years later I am able to balance off camera light with the natural sunlight to get some amazing dynamic portraits. Let’s dive deeper into off camera flash portraits.
What is overpowering the sun mean in photography?
The sun is a huge ball of gas that emits tons of light day after day so you really don’t “overpower the sun”. This is a term to describe balancing light with a natural source (the sun) in order to create a correct exposure within your portrait.
The sun provides a large light source and can create harsh shadows on your subject if you are shooting outdoors on a sunny day. The goal is to soften or eliminate these shadows with flash lighting by using speedlights or strobes.
Profoto B2 Portraits
My off-camera flash system of choice is the Profoto B2 strobe. It’s a 250Ws portable strobe that I picked up second-hand a few years ago. It is my main light for portrait shoots. I was using regular speedlights before this and I new I was going to need more power. The Profoto B2 equals about 3-4 speedlights combined in power.
How do you overpower the sun in portrait photography?
- Get your subject into your preferred position. This can be facing the bright light or away from your main light source. To practice, I would have the subject facing away from the sun. this creates a bright rim light on the subject’s hair and shoulders.
- Before turning on the flash, take a quick test shot and expose for the highlights or ambient light. Don’t worry if your subject is dark and the background is bright. You will balance this next with your flash.
- Once you have this down, turn on your flash and do not touch the settings on your camera. Set your flash to TTL or manual mode and take a test shot.
- Review the image in camera and adjust power as needed.
- Once you have the power dialed in then start taking more photos.
- Repeat this process every time you move your subject around the environment.
What kind of lighting do you need?
Off camera flash is a subject that can take time to learn, but it isn’t impossible. I use a 250Ws strobe for my outdoor off camera flash portraits, but I have been able to shoot with regular speedlights. I would pair two speedlights together if you can, but you can also use one light if you position your subject in a darker area or heavily shadowed area.
Having the subject in the direct sunlight might make it hard to shoot because the speedlight may not have enough power to keep up with you. Remember, the speedlight will have to recycle after every shot and if your running the power at full, then you will run out of battery pretty quick.
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How do you know where to position the light for portraits?
If you’re just beginning, then try this approach. Place your subject directly in-between you and the sun or the main light source. Once you follow the steps above and expose for the ambient light, then you can turn on your flash unit and get light hitting your subject in the portrait.
What camera and lens do you use to overpower the sun?
My current camera is the Sony a7riii and I shoot very often with my Sony 55mm f1.8 lens. I use a single Profoto B2 strobe with the Profoto TTL Air Remote. I pair the B2 strobe with a 2×3 OCF softbox to soften the light and get rid of harsh shadows.
I have also used my backup camera the Sony a6400 ASPC mirrorless camera for model test shoots as well. The camera worked really well with the Profoto B2 and I got some great shots.
What is high speed sync?
Every camera has a flash sync speed. This speed is the fastest a shutter can release while also triggering your flash. High speed sync is your camera and flash’s ability to go beyond this speed.
For example, the flash sync speed of my current Sony a7riii is 1/250sec. If I move faster than this shutter speed, then the camera and remote will automatically go into high speed sync mode.
When entering HHS remember that all strobes will lose a bit of power compared to staying within the sync speed. This is normal and you need to learn the limitations of your strobe or speedlight before shooting on site.
Are there other ways to shoot with strobes or flash?
One of my favorite ways to shoot portraits is with wide open apertures. This is not always possible if it is really bright outside. In order to get around this, I use a variable ND filter. This is like adding sun glasses to your lens so you can darken the ambient light going into the camera and help your chances in shooting at wider apertures.
With a variable ND filter, I usually keep my shutter speed at my max camera sync speed (1/250sec). I follow the steps like above, but before I turn on the flash, I turn the variable ND filter to a setting that helps darken the background and helps bring down the highlights of a shot.
Once I have the variable ND filter set, I turn on my flash control and set my flash to TTL. This let’s the strobe and camera figure out the best settings to expose for my subject. After this test shot, I switch the light to manual mode and adjust the power as needed.
This process happens so fast for me that I don’t really mind shooting with a variable ND filter anymore. I actually prefer this to high speed sync (HHS) because it saves me power on my strobe.
The battery pack doesn’t have to work as hard when using a variable ND filter. If your curious, here is the one I use for my Sony 55mm f1.8. Gobe offers different sizes for all types of lens filter threads.
Is shooting with flash hard?
If you have no experience with flash, then it can feel intimidating at first. You will need to practice in order to learn how the flash works with the camera to get a balanced exposure.
May flash systems come in TTL modes and this can help you learn. The camera and flash will decide the output power needed so you can take some of the guess work out of it.
Learning off-camera flash is not hard, but it does require some study and practice to get just right. Once you learn how to position and control your flash, you can pretty much shoot in all different environments and lighting situations.
Can you use speedlights to overpower the sun?
Yes, but you need to keep in mind that speedlights may limit your ability to shoot different compositions. Speedlights are not as powerful as larger strobes so they will need to stay close to your subject.
You can also try shooting with a variable ND filter on your lens so that you don’t have to use your speedlight at full-power. Again, the best thing to do it practice. Have a friend or family member come out to pose for you at different times of the day. This will give you a better understanding of how the sun light will affect your images with flash.
Issues with shooting portraits against the sun
You will undoubtable run into issues with shooting against the sun. Your strobe might not be powerful enough to handle the settings you dial into your camera so be prepared to adjust realtime.
Also, keep in mind the sun is constantly moving and you’ll need to readjust your settings and composition to get the best shot possible.
Another issue you will run into focusing. The camera and lens combination may have trouble focusing with the bright sun behind your subject. Sony mirrorless cameras have phase-detection points and also use contrast detection points to focus on subjects.
I’ve been in situations where the eye autofocus could not find a subject’s face or focus on the eyes because of the lighting. To get around this, I would switch to manual focus or single spot focus and have my subject stay still.
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Accessories to consider having on hand
With every strobe and flash unit, you have options for different diffusers and modifiers to place in front of the light. This is where you will need to practice and try different modifiers to see how each on works and what type of light output you will be getting.
Another important accessory to have on hand is extra batteries for your light. Just like your camera, you never know just how fast a battery can run out so you will need to keep extra batteries with you when shooting off camera flash.
Understanding light as a beginner portrait photographer
As a beginner photographer, I remember just running out and scheduling shoots so I could get more practice and build my portfolio. Now I tell beginners that you need to shoot with purpose. If you are needing to learn a specific skill, then doing TFP or test shoots is a great opportunity to do this.
When practicing your shoots, remember that lighting can make or break your photos. Having a camera with high dynamic range can only take you so far and can only save so many images before you start to struggle with editing.
Learn some of the basics of lighting and how it effects your subjects when trying to expose for a photo. This will make you that much more efficient when shooting with off camera flash.
It may seem daunting and impossible to learn flash photography when you’re just getting started. Learn the basics and practice your lighting and you will get good at overpower the sun and using the tools in your camera bag to make the best shots possible.
It’s all about problem solving and getting the most out of your gear.
Author - Jason The Creative
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