An important technique for any photographer is being able to balance and crosslight sunlight, unless of course you plan to take all of your pictures and night!
Before we learn how to tame sunlight, let’s take a look at what TTL, on-camera fill flash does so we can have a basic understanding of the concept to better understand how we can expand it. Now this is nothing against TTL, mind you. There are situations for which it is clearly the best solution. But I cringe at the thought of all of that technology being brought to bear on what turns out to be a boring photo because the light was coming from on-axis.
You have seen the photo before, in the back of your camera or flash manual. It’s usually a very nonthreateningly beautiful female Japanese model, posing by a railing with a background of, say a nice lake or harbor scene and perhaps a sailboat or two. The before-and-after photos show the ugly, raccoon-eyes look of the model in the evil and photo ruining harsh sunlight and the improved-but-still-sterile TTL-Matrix-Balanced-Computer-Assisted-Patented-Photographer-Brain-Softening fill light.
Raccoon eyes are the problem, and the pat solution is to pop just enough light in there to fill them. The camera calculates the basic, ambient exposure and pops in a little fill at, say, 1.7 stops down. It fills the harsh shadows and leaves that little “flash twinkle” in the eyes.
But really, with harsh sun and one flash you can do so much better. Even keeping the flash hard (with no umbrella) you can get some very cool looks by going off camera, and you only have three decisions to make:
1. At what angle do you want your strobe light and sunlight to hit your subject?
2. How bright to you want to set your ambient?
3. How bright do you want to set your flash?
Boy, that there’s some real rocket science right? No, it’s not. It a simple series of choices that can leave you with some super cool-looking mid-day photos. Let’s run through the thought process and take a look at some of the results you can get.
Taming the Sun
It’s good to start with the sun coming from behind your subject, out of the frame, on the back/right or back/left side. You’ll be throwing hard sunlight against hard strobe light, so lighting-wise you do not care which is coming from where. But your subject would probably rather not look right into the sun.
(The choice to go back right or back left is going to be made by which background you prefer, given the differing sun positions.)