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Tips & Tricks

How To Use the Sun as a Key Light With Jay P. Morgan

By Chris Nachtwey on May 30th 2014

Many photographers have had nightmares about shooting in the mid-day sun. It’s harsh, unforgiving, and a real project to deal with, but being a professional you need to know how to adapt and use that mid-day sun to your advantage.

In the video below, our friend Jay P. Morgan shows us how to use the sun as a key light, and fill in the shadows with a pop of flash.




Jay was faced some difficult challenges for these portraits. Due to power lines, he only had two directions in which he could shoot his subject: backlit with the sun which would wash out the sky, or chose to use the sun as the key light, fill in the shadows with a strobe and keep the blue sky he wanted.

In the image below,  you can see the difference in using a strobe to fill in the shadows vs using the sun alone. This is a basic technique every photographer needs to master to be able to work effectivly with a situation like Jay was faced with.



Camera Settings


Final Images



Using the sun as a key light is not my favorite thing to do, but sometimes you have to use it. Jay does a nice job of making good portraits in a tough lighting situation, and as he says “what separates a professional photographer from an amateur, is making things happen in the timeframe and situation you have been given.”

How would you have handled the situation Jay was in? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Via: The Slanted Lens

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Barry Cunningham

    Not exactly a “pop” of flash; more like a dainty ker-thunk.

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  2. John Smith

    Not really a speedlight kit. C’mon guys. Will even a Nikon SB910 have enough oomph to overcome that much sunlight from that distance at F/9? I don’t think so.

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