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Best time of day for outdoor portraits?

Sam taha , Apr 24, 2009; 02:36 a.m.

This couple-friend of mine asked me to take some outdoor photos for them, most likely at a beach or open park. My main issue will be lighting because (1) we live in a sunny climate and (2) I only have a shoe-mounted flash (Nikon SB-600); no fancy lighting equipement. So I'm wondering if doing this shoot in the morning vs.afternoon, vs. early evening would help?? Any other tips?
p.s. I have a Nikon D90 and I intend to use my 50/1.4 and 85/1.4.


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Tonio Lombardi , Apr 24, 2009; 04:26 a.m.

i live in a sunny climate too. i usually start in the afternoon and finish off in the evening at sunset. Probably the most useful lighting tool you should use is the handy reflector along with some one to hold it for you :) I like to shoot against the sun and point the reflector to the subject.

Happy shooting :)

Brian Chmura , Apr 24, 2009; 06:40 a.m.

This is opinion, mind you, but best is dawn...second best is sunset. Dawn also has the advantage of having less people around. If you have a bright overcast day you can shoot anytime...though a gray overcast is not as easy. If you shoot at the beach, you should shoot at sunrise/sunset depending on which coast your on. Shoot when you can use the sun to backlight and the SB600 as the key. With an SB600 (assuming you have a camera with CLS) you DO have some fancy lighting equipment, as you can get your flash off camera and trigger it wirelessly (it's easy). A fairly simple method is to cross light using the sunrise/set as a backlight. Position your friends so the sun is rim lighting them from behind and offset at 45 degrees. Set your camera to ISO 100 in aperture priority mode and exposure compensation to -1.3 (take a shot and chimp the LCD)...play with the exposure compensation until you get the background to look the way you like best. Then, you have two options...you can keep your SB600 on the hotshoe, set it to TTL BL (must be in matrix metering for this) and your flash compensation at +1.0 to start. (The camera EV affects the entire exposure...meaning that it will not only "underexpose" the background some but will also reduce the flash power correspondingly....but you want the people to pop a bit, so you'll need to pump the flash up a bit. Take a shot and chimp...play with the flash EV til it looks good to you.
Other option is to use wireless CLS with the popup set to commander mode and either "---" where it doesn't contribute any real light to the image, or set it to "M" and 1/16 th or 1/32nd to let the popup throw a little fill for the shadow side. Then get your SB600 up at 45 degrees from the camera opposite the sun. It's easier to set the SB600 to M and start with about 1/8th power from 8-10 feet away. It should be slightlly higher than their heads...on a stand if possible, or held by a friend, or, stuck on a monopod so you can hold it out there on the end of a stick (acutally, if you don't have a stand/monopod/human lightstand available, you can just bungee or clamp the flash to a broom handle). You want to get the flash hitting them,. let's say, 45d camera left (if you're handholding, this is where it will need to be on the end of your "stick") and the sun lighting them from 45d behind (technically 135d from the camera position) camera right.
The sun will rim light them, separating them from the background. The sky and water/beach, etc. will have saturated color (from the negative EV) and warm light from the sun. The people will have pop from the whiter light of the flash (though you can even this out with an orange gel, or boncing it off a gold reflector, or more subtly by setting your white balance to cloudy or shade which will warm the light from the flash a bit.
This is all really easy...though it may sound complex if you're new to it. If you're not familiar with Strobist (http://strobist.blogspot.com/0 go there and read the lighting 101 section. You'll get it down pretty quick.

Ian . , Apr 24, 2009; 06:50 a.m.

Any time of day can be fine, depending on the weather (bright/overcast) and the open shade available.
Shooting decent protraits with a shoe mounted flash is very tough, so just find some nice soft light and shoot with that.

Starvy Goodfellows , Apr 24, 2009; 01:25 p.m.

ian is right, shoe mounted flash makes it increasingly difficult to shoot good portraits. try to use reflectors and use natural light. direct sunlight might not be the best if you are looking at flattering portraits, so avoid 11-2 and shoot at any other time.

Patrick Lavoie , Apr 24, 2009; 04:41 p.m.

any time of the day, in the shade. Or the next best investment would be a silkscreen so you can shoot the model under in any condition..even at lunch time.

Take some image when the sun is lower, morning before lunch, end of afternoon..or under a roof, a tree, a shaded place.

Angel Perez , Apr 29, 2009; 10:24 p.m.

I would echo what Brian said. Use the CLS system and keep your subject facing away from the sun. I use an sb-600 myself and I shoot outdoors using this method all the time. Feel free to look at some of my images as a refference.
la photographer

Angel Perez , Apr 29, 2009; 10:25 p.m.

Sam taha , May 04, 2009; 03:24 p.m.

thanks everyone for the tips. Well we went for late-afternoon shots and they came out pretty nice. The sun was much weaker at that time and gave some even lighting. One thing that I think helped was utilizing the D-Lighting feature and setting it to High to even out the highlights with the shadows. Actually I didn't have to use any flash at all, and the results were more than acceptable. If you're curious here are a few good shots:

What do you think?

Sam taha , May 04, 2009; 03:42 p.m.

trying to post the shots again...

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