A Lesson In Hard Light – Complimenting Mid Day Sunlight

Here again is the Prince of Cheap!

This time around I’m bringing you a lesson in hard light. Recently I was out on an outdoor fashion shoot with the wildly talented (and braided) Mr. Shannon and Stephanos. Mr. Shannon and Stephanos can be found at Model Mayhem – ID #358293 for Mr. Shannon and ID #102935 for Stephanos. Look these guys up for a shoot. You’ll be surprised what having professional talent around you will do for you!

On to the light!
It started out as a real ragtag session. Little loose planning, more equipment than necessary, more clothing options than necessary … the works! Having no knowledge of the lighting conditions meant I should bring even more gear to battle or work with whatever nature brought me! However, there was only 1 thing I knew I could count on: 12 O’Clock Devil Light! There was no way around it. No shelter (open shade), no diffuser large enough to cover the subject and my background. No way out!

Since “Subtractive Lighting” was gone I really had 1 choice. The new Innovatronix Tronix Explorer XT and the original Tronix Explorer 1200 and 600 watts of strobe power to work with the harsh light of the sun. I was in the center of the hard light cast by the sun at the worst time of day! Many photographers figure this as a loosing situation. Hard shadows, high noon sun, squinting models, all with no way to diffuse it all.

Stay put. The following technique may save your life. Your photographic life that is!

1) The first thing I thought was, “Do not fight the light.” I took an incident meter reading of the direct sunlight hitting my subjects back with my trusty-old Shepard Polaris SPD100 light meter. F11.0, ISO 100, 1/125th was my reading.

Here I am adjusting the Brollybox for the Britek HS-2000 and taking light readings:

David Griffin setting up for the shoot

And there’s Mr. Shannon preparing to do the “model thing.”

Mr. Shannon preparing for the shoot

2) The second thing I did was setup a flash in an $10 ebay brand 28 inch Brolly Box on the opposite angle of the sun to output F8.0, ISO 100, at 1/125th shutter speed. Approximately 1 f-stop less light than the sun.

David prepares to begin photographiing Mr. Shannon

By setting the sun behind my subject I was able to turn it into a super sized back light! By hitting the front with light that was -1 F Stop less than the sun it helps the image look rather more natural to the eye except for the “tattle-tell” catch light and the extreme back lighting from the sun (which created a bit of drama).

Here I used a 42 inch ebay diffuser to smooth out the flash to make the shot look a bit more natural.

Smoothing the flash with a diffuser

I caught model Stephanos taking a little cat nap!

Stephanos caught taking a cat nap,

Now this technique allows you to alter the horror of midday Devil Light and gives you a chance to take home some stunning images! Remember, this technique isn’t limited to Big Box Studio Strobes! Virtually any flash (hot shoe flashes like Vivitars, Nikon SB’s, Canon Speedlights and others) will work. I just chose my studio flashes cause it was easier to use a larger light modifier and they output lots of light with less recycle time. In fact my 125 watt el cheapo Britek brand PS-200H flashes will work with this technique (albeit at closer distances)! (Hint: Low power flashes work as well. Just move them in closer, and you have more light striking your subject!)

After 43 minutes selecting and editing time (TOTAL) on them all, heres what I came back with:


So what have we learned? We can work with and use the hard light of the midday sun when we carefully add more light. In this case I made use of the hard light by adding more hard light from the opposite angle of the sun. So, next time you’re thinking, “I cant shoot right now. I cant shoot,” get those portable flashes all packed up and get the metering right.

Note: For this shoot I used a rather expensive (in my book) lens. The truth is, I could’ve done just as good shooting with a simple 28-70mm F3.5-F5.6 basic lens! My shooting aperture was from F8.0 all the way up to F11.0 for some images. I could’ve gotten similar results using any DSLR with virtually any kit lens and maybe 2 or three Vivitar 285HV’s with wireless triggers and standard umbrellas!

Just follow the principle: “Match the light and get it right!” So there you have it: YOU CAN BEAT THE DEVIL LIGHT. NO Excuses. Now Get Ta Shootin!

Tools Used:

Sony Alpha A100 (Best DSLR of 2006)

24-70mm F2.8 Sigma DG EX Lens (GREAT All Around Lens!)

Gadget Infinity Hotshoe Adaptor For Minolta/Sony DSLR’s (Use this to connect to Pocket Wizards, hotshoe manual flashes as well as studio lights and wireless triggers)

Gadget Infinity Wireless Triggers (Love em or hate em… they’re here to stay until the Radio Popper Jr. is available for $50!)

Britek HS-2000 Flash [Half and Quarter Power] (Great flash for the money! Just no real dial down options – only half, quarter and full!)

Ebay Mr. Studio 01 28″ Brolly Box (My beauty dish replacementsee the post about my workshop and how I used it to replace the beauty dish)

Ebay Lightstand (Cheap, effective, wont last forever… but GREAT for the money!)

Innovatronix Tronix Explorer 1200 (Awesome power on the go!)

Innovatronix Tronix Explorer XT (The ultimate in power on the go for studio strobes!)

Images Shot JPEG at Highest Quality (Hey it works as long as you control the contrast)

Processed with Adobe Camera RAW 4.3.1 (No filtering… just camera raw editing and clone stamp tool)

Did I forget to mention that I brought about (5) 15lbs sandbags!

David Griffin

About David Griffin

The Prince of Cheap I am a "Jesus Freak" and a DIY photography junkie! I'm also the *second* cheapest man alive... but only 'cause my Dad is the first!

14 thoughts on “A Lesson In Hard Light – Complimenting Mid Day Sunlight

  1. TB

    This was very helpful but you had to do something more to these images than raw editing and clone stamp. They have a very “Lucisart” feel to them. If not, mind sharing how you were able to do this without any filters?

  2. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    TO TB: I didnt use any filter whatsoever. All my work with with ADOBE CAMERA RAW 4 and the clone stamp tool. Thats it. The major of the work was how I processed the image with camera raw. Thats what gave me the crisp pop. The thing that makes the image really pop on top of popping is the back and sidelighting from the sun. Thats absolutely it!

    MR. NEIL COWLEY, I’m honored that you’ve seen or read my article! :)

  3. christian

    Did you mount a flash on your cameras hot shoe?
    If so what kind?
    Sorry if im not using this terminology right.Im completely new to photography :)

  4. Shawn

    I am looking for simple a studio lighting kit that can be use on location that works with my D200. any ideas? I have used Novatron with my Nikon FM and FM 2 cameras. DSLRS are new to me.

    Shawn C Photography

  5. DrAW!

    well done david

    smashing pix and great tutorial!

    i’m surprised to hear that the only post processing was done in adobe camera raw

    apart from input of the dramatic backlighting from the sun, i detect some hdri treatment
    is that solely from basic editing in adobe camera raw (with emphasis on basic)

    or is there some more intricate processing involved?


  6. David GriffinDavid Griffin Post author

    TO DrAW:
    Absolutely nothing sept for Adobe Camera Raw. The trick is what i did with the shutter. I didnt allow the shutter to be open very long. This helped darken the background. Then when it came to post processing the sharpening is what did a lot of work.

  7. alohanett

    Aloha David,
    I am amazed to see you shot with Sony A100. I thought I was the only person who bought one… I just found this site, and what to tell you.. thank you and your team for bring this to the public. I am learning lots. Did you use the vivid mode on Sony A100? or did you pop it in camera raw? Much Mahalo’s

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