Stay Out A Little Longer And Break Out The Strobe

Hispanic family mountain biking on West Rim trail along Rio Grande Gorge in Taos, New Mexico

Mountain biking along West Rim Trail, Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, New Mexico.

On a recent mountain biking shoot we stopped at one of my favorite overlooks of the Rio Grande Gorge.  The sun was below a nearby ridge so all my foreground and most of the canyon was in deep shadow.  The low angle sun about 10 minutes from sunset was basking the west slopes of the mountains and the upper part of the opposite rim.

Just the way I wanted it.  Been here before and anticipated the lighting scenario.  No problem.  Break out the strobe, attach an orange gel and use my mobile light stand (Lauri) to position the light at about the same angle the sun was hitting the background.

First shot is OK but too much light on the rock below the cyclists.  Thanks to digital we can see that now on the spot.  It’s usually a good idea anyway to shoot on the edge of your light source feathering the light up.  The second shot matches more of the light on the opposite side of the canyon and was closer to what I wanted.

Hispanic family (father and his two daughters) with mountain bikes overlooking Rio Grande Gorge along West Rim Trail in Taos, New Mexico

Family mountain biking post ride scene overlooking the Rio Grande from the West Rim Trail. Lighting on subjects from Canon 580EX2’s with warming gels and fired off camera.

Hispanic family with mountain bikes overlooking Rio Grande Gorge along West Rim Trail in Taos, New Mexico

Same lighting in this image as the one above. Flagging the flash and blocking light from spilling on the rocks in front of the cyclists came closer to emulating the late sunlight on the other side of the canyon though not as bright. In retrospect I could have gone stronger with the orange gel to a full cut CTO. I would have preferred to get a little closer to the subjects with the strobe but couldn’t because of terrain and getting the speedlite showing up in the frame. There is a limit to a speedlite’s power with a gel and grid attached. Seems like I usually shoot on the margins of the speedlite’s capability which is a good exercise.

I’ve heard too many times from shooters that “no clouds, no color in the sky” so they pack it up after the sun goes down.  I say stay a little longer and play with your strobes.  Warmly lit subject against a cool background is a tried and true formula.

The sisters on their bikes portrait was simple to do.  No color in the sky?  No problem.  A little underexposure and a cool shift in white balance fixes that.  For the girls,  one light for each girl softened with a Gary Fong Lightsphere and a half cut CTO to compensate for the cool white balance creates a pleasing light on their faces.  Here’s a tip to remember:  A big dark background will fool your flash into putting out too much light.  So I dialed my flash exposure down -1 stop.  The opposite is true for bright backgrounds.  Say you shooting into the sun and you want to light your small subject who is not lit by the sun.  You will need to pump out more light than your flash thinks it will.

Portrait of Hispanic sisters mountain biking on West Rim trail along Rio Grande Gorge in Taos, New Mexico

Sisters on mountain bikes on the West Rim Trail near Taos, New Mexico. Usually on clear days there is little color in the dawn or dusk sky. So I make it go bluer with a bit of underexposure and white balance shift toward tungsten. They were lit with 2 off camera 580 EX 2’s softened with Gary Fong Lightspheres. All this lighting gear is portable in a pack while hiking or riding. This was a great way to end an afternoon/evening shoot.

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