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Shooting Tips

Vintage Style Natural Light Portrait at Sunset – How We Shot It

By Matthew Saville on April 30th 2013

The Photo

camera-raw-presets-vintage-fade-sunset-engagement-650(Click here for a larger version!)

The Equipment and Settings

The Shooting Conditions

Shooting portraits at sunset is always a difficult situation.  You want to capture the beautiful warm sunset, and maybe even put the sun in your frame, and yet you also want to view your subject’s faces.

The original,un-edited image looked like this:


The highlights are almost blown out, and the faces are getting pretty shadow-y.  However neither are totally “clipped”, so the image has potential.  Could I / should I have used flash to illuminate their faces?  Maybe, but it would have taken time to set up, and in these kinds of situations I like to shoot as freely as possible.  With flash I would have had to concern myself with setup, recycle speed, and since the subjects were moving I would have had to coordinate flash distance, angle, etc…

The bottom line is that I felt more comfortable relying on my camera’s dynamic range, and just going with the soft natural light that was on their faces.  As the sun gets closer to the horizon it dims and softens, so I knew I could “fit it” (the scene) into a single RAW exposure.

The Post-Processing

Remember, you are not using RAW as a “crutch” because you’re sloppy with exposure, or because you’re too in-experienced or lazy to use off-camera lighting.  It is a calculated decision that you make based on time, practicality, and what you know you can get out of your images in post-production.

To process the original image, I started with one of the “HDR portrait” Mixology presets from the SLR Lounge Preset System.  This preset helped me preserve highlights, brighten shadows, and yet keep skin tones from getting to “grunge-y” like an HDR landscape photo usually looks.

Next, I used a vintage fade preset that affects the RGB curves only, (so as not to mess up my exposure, shadows, highlights etc.) …and finished the image off with a faint amount of burning & dodging.  Oh, I also cropped the image to put the subjects’ faces just slightly off-center.  When shooting wide-open at f/1.X in an active scenario, I often opt to “bulls-eye” my shot to ensure perfect sharpness, and then just add a slight crop later.  This gives me better results than attempting to use an off-center focus point in low-light and risk the image being slightly mis-focused.


camera-raw-presets-vintage-fade-sunset-engagement-650Well, that’s about it!  Thanks for viewing, and happy clicking,
=Matthew Saville=

Natural Light Portraiture

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If you are interested in becoming a master at natural light portraits, (photographing couples) …then you should check out our Natural Light Portraits for Couples DVD Workshop!  This comprehensive video workshop collection will help you master everything about photographing people in a simple, natural light setting…  Click here to visit the SLR Loune Store and get more info.

The SLR Lounge Preset System

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The SLR Lounge Preset System is designed to enable users to achieve virtually any look and effect within 3-5 simple clicks. From basic color correction, vintage fades, black & white effects, tilt-shift effects, faux HDR, retouching, detail enhancing, and so much more. The sky is the limit with what has been dubbed the most powerful and intuitive preset system available. Click the link above to learn more/purchase!  The SLR Lounge Preset System is now available for both Lightroom 4 and Adobe Camera Raw! (Bridge CS6)

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Photo of the Day: Desert Panorama One-Shot HDR

    […] to yesterday’s Photo of the Day, here is another example of managing your dynamic range very carefully.  The original exposure […]

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  2. Jeremy

    Any reason for such a high shutter speed and ISO?

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    • Matthew Saville

      No, just slowly adapting my settings for the changing light of sunset, and I over-compensated a little too much LOL. Of course keep in mind that the D700’s native ISO is 200 not 100, but yeah ISO 200 and 1/1500 sec. would have worked just fine compared to ISO 400 and 1/3000 sec. ;-)

      =Matthew Saville=

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  3. Jerome A Shaw – Rome

    love it

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