Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dramatic Sunset Portraits

The sun is the most powerful lighting tool in our arsenal.  It is also one that we have no control over, yet it is also our most predictable one.  Learning how to work with the sun is an outdoor photographer's top responsibility.  

Back when I was in grad school, I faced a significant timing problem due to the fact that I worked full-time while going to school full-time.  In case this doesn't already sound ridiculous to you, take into consideration the fact that my only real "free" hours in the day were around eleven a.m. to one p.m., at the height of the day, and this was in the Deep South.  I didn't have time to hit the studio, so I often had no choice but to shoot during this time frame, and outdoors.  I bravely fought with the sun for while, using all sorts of shade-producing devices and implements, but to no avail.  And, assistants to hold stuff are virtually non-existent when you are a student.  So, what I did instead was to learn as much about the sun as I possibly could ("know thy enemy"), and figure out how to work with it, instead of against it.  I walked away from the lesson with some of the most beautiful images I have ever created.  Ever since then, I have been a fan of utilizing the sun to create dramatic lighting presence in my photos.

The sunset sun can be as harsh as noon-time sun, especially if you are shooting directly into it.  It can drown out all of your surroundings, create despicable shadows, and totally break apart your scene.  Angling the sun, making use of its unique quirks can produce unusual yet appealing results.  Here are a couple of shots from a session I had last week, when the sun felt particularly powerful:

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

In this above photo, I let the sun make a little jewel of itself, really heightening the sweetness and emotion in this photo.  Exploring the different ways the sun can be used aesthetically can render some intriguing results.

In terms of background skies, clouds are a good thing, because they can act like giant diffusers.  When the horizon is clean and devoid of clouds, the sun comes in too brightly, blowing out the delicate blues and shining harshly on the foreground.  Using this to my advantage creates a strong counter-focal point for my portrait below, where the glare actually acts as a "bounce card," sending your eyes to her face instead of letting you linger too long on the background.  I absolutely love all the flares; I know some people hate them, but they are just such a natural part of photography and part of the process of working with glass lenses that I embrace them wholeheartedly.  Not to diverge from the topic at hand, but even multi-gagillionaire animated feature studios painstakingly add lens flare to their movies by hand, so why in the world would we photographers want to remove it? 

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
While making small talk with this family during the session, I learned that the mom and dad had always been disappointed by the terrible wedding pictures they'd had taken many years ago.  To remedy that, I gave them an ultimate and romantic Maui "honeymoon" shot to celebrate their fifteen years together (and check out that flare!):

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
Lastly, the magic keeps happening even after the sun sets.  From far beyond the horizon, its light shines just enough to create fantastic natural silhouettes that no artificial flash will ever replicate.

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

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