Backlighting Sun and Flash

For this portrait photography class, Karl takes his studio outside, working in an orchard to produce these spectacular images.

Shooting into the sun, Karl shows you how to perfectly balance studio light with natural light to produce the final image, which was achieved using just two studio lights with basic modifiers.

This tutorial covers important factors such as the best equipment to use on location, including studio lights, lighting modifiers and filters, and also demonstrates how you can get creative in the same location. Karl produces two different styles of images, demonstrating the versatility of mobile lithium lighting and the importance of choosing the right lens.

In this class:

  • Portrait photography: Photographing on location
  • Photographing with flash on location
  • Studio lighting modifiers for working on location
  • Studio lights for location work
  • Filters – combining graduated filters and neutral density filters

For more information on different types of studio lights, watch Chapter 2 of our Portrait section.

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl, Thank you for the great course I am learning a great deal.
    How much flash power do you need to be able to light up your subject with such a strong sun? I see your are using two Siros L lights in this video….can I get away with 400w (2x godox AD200pro combined) or do I need to get a bigger unit with at least 600w?
    I am planning a few outdoor shoots with athletes and dancers and like the backlit effect. The problem is that they will likely be running, jumping, cycling etc so full power probably won’t give me the short flash duration I need to freeze the action, but if I reduce power then the sun will be too strong…
    Thank you for your help and suggestions.
    Also looking forward to the next live show (however 2am in Australia is a bit brutal ha ha )

    1. Hi Stephane, thank you. How much flash power is a difficult question to answer because each situation is different. For example how clear the sky is, what ISO you are using, what f-stop etc. For example a 400W light is only one stop less than an 800W Siros light which is only the difference of changing the ISO from 100 to 200. Even with the Siros you need to reduce the power down to about 100w or less to get the fast flash duration so what you are asking would be difficult. Sorry about the live show times, maybe best if you watch them in the morning on replay at a reasonable hour!

  2. If you placed a strobe behind the model with a beauty dish could you fake that backlit sun look?

    1. Hi, Yes but you would still need a backlit scene from the natural light otherwise it would look false. You would also need to get that strobe on a giraffe boom so it wasn’t in the shot every time the model moved.

  3. Hi Karl,
    Just got a pair of Profoto B10, im having a hard time finding the right distance between the model and the light source, for both main and back lights. Is there a rule on how to place them or how far away should they be? Im using with these lights a 2´ octabox and a 2´x3´ Softbox.
    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Rich, I’ll have to find the original file and check but I’m away for a few days so will have to be next week. Cheers Karl.

  4. Karl, I am a KTE member and have a question about shooting outside in the golden hour. I know this is pretty basic stuff but I’m struggling. I will be using a 40″ octabox to shoot a maternity subject late in the afternoon and I will be using a Lee CTO gel on the Octabox (anywhere from 1/2 CTO to a full CTO) and not sure how to handle my white balance. Seems like I should use Flash WB but not sure. Thoughts? Also should I be using a light meter? (just kidding – don’t have heart attack lol)!

    1. Hi Bob, so the key problem here is the colour temperature of the light at golden hour. Usually at this time it will be closer to 3600-4000k but this can vary depending on atmospheric conditions. So if we introduce flash onto our subject without gels then that light will be colder looking at 5600k, so yes the option is too add a gel inside the softbox (often clipped over the internal diffuser) to bring a bit of warmth to the flash. However for your white balance I’d simply leave it set at 5600k as long as you are shooting RAW then you can easily slide your white balance after with no ill effects. If you want to preview your images more neutral at the time of shooting then simply set the white balance (using manual WB) to about 4000K, you’ll still be able to change it later as long as you are shooting RAW. If I remember correctly I demonstrate shooting at a different white balance so I could preview the image warmer in this module Cheers Karl.

  5. Hi Karl,
    How do you control the spill on the floor ?
    when shooting in overcast day and you want the sky darker I notice there is light spill on the ground.. It illuminates the subject well but there is visible light on the ground as well
    how can this be controlled ?

    1. Hi Latesh, I think I mentioned it in the video or one of our post production sections. Usually I shoot a blank without the flash to merge in after or it’s just burn and dodge work.

  6. Hi Karl,
    I’d like to replay what I observed in this video, which brings me to the questions : When you moved to the 70-200 2.8, and fired the flashes on the side, you eliminated the 3 stop density filter – yes? This way, I am assuming that you went to about 135 mm or perhaps up to 180 mm, and were 10 or more meters away from your model. It follows then, and from the look of the depth of field in the final picture, I am guessing that you were at about f11. Correct? That’s why you had the lights up at 8.5 and 9 – because you were closed down to f11 or even f16.
    OR were you more open using high speed synch? I guess I am asking the settings…… I look forward to hearing from you – your videos are helpful, especially the small details, if studied, because it shows the nuances of how a pro works (distances, angles, etc.).

    1. Hi Matthew, yes that is correct and if it’s not mentioned in the video in the voice over or picture settings then we will have to amend this.

  7. Dear Karl,
    I am using 85 1.2 canon
    when i shoot at 1.2 to 2.0 aperture along with flash i notice my images are blurry. i checked the eyes and most of times i see blurry eyes and shots are out of focus. i dont see this happening when i use natural light. my shutter speed is above 200 and i notice most of my shots i dont get results. when i use f4 onwards images are sharper and in focus. what could be the reason ?does flash impact in anyway ?

    1. Hi Latesh, the flash will have no impact on focusing at all. You must have another problem here where your shutter speed is being reduced and causing image blur, try your camera in manual mode on a tripod and make sure the shutter speed is within the camera’s sync speeds. Autofocus on your subject (a solid non moving object) and then switch to manual focus. Then your subject and camera are fixed and nothing will change and shoot with and without flash and then through a process of elimination you should be able to determine the problem.

  8. Hi Karl,
    what is the white balance when you shoot in sun ?
    I noticed when shooting with flash in golden light the flash looks very white on the models face.. kindly advise

    1. Hi Latesh, my white balance is almost always set at ‘daylight 5600K’ which is also the correct colour balance for flash. As I’m shooting RAW the colour balance can be adjusted later with no side effects. If trying to match the flash colour balance to either a warm scene or a cold scene then the appropriate coloured gels can be used on the flash.

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