Sunset photos with people

edited October 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
I figured out sunset photos with the cheat cards just fine, but when I'm trying to take sunset photos with a person in them, I'm getting very dark faces. The only solution I have found is adding a flash. Is there any other way to make this work? A 35mm lens is what I'm using.


  • edited October 2015
    Fill flash is one way to do it, and can work very well if it's not too harsh. It's the only way to get the face exposed without overexposing the sunset. In P, S, A, and M modes, the flash is usually automatically set to work as a fill, which can work pretty well. You can also compensate a little, perhaps lowering the flash amount to lessen its effect.

    You can do exposure compensation, adding a stop or two to increase exposure on the face. If you're in manual mode, change the setting and watch the meter, or for other modes use the [+/-] button. Remember that in manual mode, you must not be using Auto ISO, or the change you make may just be cancelled out by the camera.

    You can also switch to Spot metering, and meter off the face. If you're doing a lot of this, or on beach, snow, etc. that's less tedious.

    Either way, though, changing exposure for the backlit face will generally result in overexposure of the background, which will likely end up with a pretty bland sunset.

    You can do some shadow recovery in post processing. View NX2 and likely other programs have good shadow recovery options, and there's a lot you can do there.

    But the basic problem is that without post processing, there simply is not enough dynamic range for the camera to capture both the back lit face and the sunset correctly, and the best way to handle this is probably with light. If you do a lot of this kind of work, you'd probably benefit from a more sophisticated flash, perhaps with a diffuser or softener.

    Edit to add: the built in camera flash, because it is straight-on and undiffused, tends to be pretty harsh, and often casts unwanted shadows. For a portrait outdoors with no close background, shadows may not be an issue, but they are at other times. There's little you can do about this except to move the source of light, or add sources of light. You can get a small amount of improvement in other ways by adding some kind of diffuser in front of it. I have seen some people use homemade diffusers made of cloudy plastic, such as milk bottles. You can also buy a little gadget that attaches to the hot shoe, with an articulated arm that allows you to put a little diffusing screen in front of the flash. It's minimal, and does little or nothing for the shadows, but can cut some of the direct glare.
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