Everything You Need To Know About Overpowering The Sun With a Flash

Trevor Sherwin recently traveled to Kenya, and decided to use this opportunity to create some amazing images for his portfolio. Most people who travel to the area tend to focus on the wildlife, but Trevor wanted to focus on something else - people. He wanted to create dramatic portraits of the local tribes in a way that shows both the people and the location. Check out his great video explaining his method of shooting.

Before traveling, Trevor searched online to see what was done before: how other people photographed the tribes. He noticed that in most cases, people shot with just available light or low-powered flash. The results were OK, but not powerful, dramatic or interesting as the images he wanted to create. He knew he will have to bring a powerful flash or a strobe to overpower the bright sunlight.

fstoppers-blownout-sky-portraitExample for a portrait taken with just available light. Face is exposed correctly, but the sky is blown out.

Trevor traveled with one battery-powered Photoflex TritonFlash, Large OctoDome Softbox, ND8 3 Stop Neutral Density Filter and Phottix Odin radio Trigger. This is a very light way to travel. Everything can fit in one backpack, and easy to travel with.

The TritonFlash is a very powerful flash that works with a battery pack, which makes it great for location photo shoots. On top of it, it is very powerful and can help you overpower the bright sun light, and create a very even, detailed and dramatic shot. In the video above Trevor Sherwin explains everything about the technical aspects, how he shot it, why he chose the equipment he took with him, and also everything about his retouching and post processing.



To learn more, head to Trevor's blog where he gives a lot of additional information about his technique and equipment. In addition - to join one of Trevor's future workshops, sign up here.

[via ISO1200 and photoflex.ca]

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Mr Blah's picture

his pictures look exactly like Joey Lawrence's... dunno which took theirs first but...

Johannes Abeling's picture

Lot's of people make these type of pictures. Even long before Joey Lawrence. In the B&W days there was Phil Borges. I guess everybody inspires everybody. Isn't that beautiful?

jniz22's picture

agreed... its the setting/concept that sort of hammer home the feeling of "sameness" regardless of how many times this has been done.

Mark Shannon's picture

Great shots, and great explanations. Love that these types of things are possible with relatively little equipment.

Ariel Martini's picture

he took a studio flash and a octo to his vacation in africa, is that little?

Noam Galai's picture

It's less than what many others take for their trips (tripods, light stands, few flashes, few lenses, 1-2 bodies, reflector/s and what not. Strobe sounds like a lot, but if you check out the one he took, it's not that big.

Mark Shannon's picture

Given that part of the reason he travelled to Africa was for shots like this, I'd say it was. The average studio shoot involves much more equipment, and Trevor was able to recreate that look with the bare minimum of gear.

Nicholas Hrycun's picture

His pictures look exactly like Rembrandt's...dunno which took theirs first but...

Jeff Ladrillono's picture


Michael Osei's picture

Don't see why he's not shooting at ISO 100 and 1/200 or 1/250 but at ISO 400 instead. A 300 WS flash should be sufficient to do that... Or you could just use a x100s or RX1 :-)

Timothy Jace's picture

I used to be like everyone else. Now i would just bring a reflector. Works better, looks more natural.

Scott's picture

I've tried that. My wife can't even open her eyes without them watering when I'm hitting her with a reflector in full sunlight.

Mike Kelley's picture

You're supposed to feather it in full sun so it doesn't do this. Or have her close her eyes and count backwards from 3 and she can just open them at '1' for the shot then close them again :)

Timothy Jace's picture

That happens some times. :)

Michael Delman's picture

Great shots, interesting video. But why were you shooting at ISO 400 if you were trying to reduce the exposure?

Mansgame's picture

lol the honest answer would be "I forgot to change my settings" but I'd like to hear the made up reason - maybe because it adds more grain or something.

Kamil "kurnikoff" Kurylonek's picture

Get some details out from deep shadows? You can't light and fill all the shadows with small flash. So, I guess maybe thats why?
(PS I haven't seen the video yet, but thats my understanding why ISO400 and not ISO100)

Mansgame's picture

The problem is ISO affects both flash AND ambient light. Only the aperture affects the flash.

Adi Marwan's picture

if you watch from vimeo, he explained why he used ISO400..

Quoted from him from vimeo
"Good question, its just the way I shoot. I typically shoot at 200 or 400 ISO when I shoot with flash in studio that way I can float the ISO instead of the Aperture and shutter speeds. Its just something I've become accustomed to doing.But yes I could have set up to shoot at 100 ISO and done exactly the same thing."

Chris Pickrell's picture


How does the aperture not effect ambient light?

What kind of new fangled camera, sci fi magic is this?

Jeff Ladrillono's picture

Wow. Never looked into these Photoflex Triton Flashes. Less than $1k at B&H for 300w/s. Looked at the spec and it stated the flash duration is /1/3200 at full power, but couldn't find if that was a t.1 or t.5 spec. Anyone know where I can find/verify the t.1 duration?

if 1/3200 at 1/1 power is t.1, this is a viable alternative to Lumidyne action packs at half the price with 50% more power.

Savi You's picture

Paul C. Buff Einsteins are 640w/s, 1/13,000 second (t.1)...$500.

B L's picture

The goal here was not to freeze action but to get the widest aperture in broad daylight. A super short flash duration would have been helpless...
But the Einsteins are a bargain - no question about it !!

Nick Li's picture

does his work just remind me of Joey Lawrence?

Jeff Ladrillono's picture

Underexposing ambient a couple stops and filling in the subject with strobes? Reminds me of Atiba Jefferson without the moving subject.

It's not a new technique. Skateboard photographers have used it for years to minimize motion blur.

CurrentCo's picture

I would say it nods to it. Especially with the wondering monks project. But Joey's stuff has a bit more pop to it and he uses a medium format so the feel created by perspective distortion is different and (subjectively) more moody. These portraits are nice, but his tone choice has more of that subtle fade effect, I would say.

Jacob delaRosa's picture

Joey is also WAY more committed to his subjects than anyone else I've seen. He literally spends years building a relationship with them. In fact, he's making a movie starring members of the tribe he photographed as told through their eyes and traditions. How many photo tourists can say they've done that?

CurrentCo's picture

That's a great point. One of the things that really stuck out to me about the way he gathered his subjects from the india documentary was that he spent plenty of time with them before he took there picture. He even mentioned that many photographers go to varanasi just to steal a few interesting pics and run away, but he wanted to know the people before he took their picture. I'm not sure which movie you're referring to but i think it's already been made. the whole thing is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB7kfnDKPEw

It's a beautiful documentary and I highly recommend it.

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