Back in January, I joined Vanelli as a co-instructor on the “Vanelli and Friends Model Workshop” on a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas. A group of photographers and several models set sail for several days at sea. The ship became our floating studio.

Golden Hour and Blue Hour

My favorite time to shoot is at dusk, just as the sun is hitting the horizon and the sky is exploding with colors. As golden hour ends, blue hour begins. Golden hour is the time right before the sun sets. Blue hour is that time after sunset when the sky turns a beautiful cobalt blue. If you would like your sky to be more intense in your photographs, just underexpose it a bit. This makes a terrific background.  All the photographs were shot on a Nikon D810 with a Nikon 24-120 f4 lens.

Bahamas, cruise, Royal Caribbean, model, sunset

Creating the Photo

While on board I asked the model, Alexandra Lee, to pose at the railing just as the sun was setting. The sky was perfect. Alexandra was in silhouette, the photograph was extremely backlit.

To create this photo, begin by determining the exposure for the perfect sky. Aim your in-camera light meter straight above your head then use this setting for the exposure of the sky. Underexposing the sky a bit will produce a darker more saturated background.

To light Alexandra, I used 2 Nissin Di700A speedlights. On one speedlight, I had a Rogue XL Flashbender, set up as a strip light. My assistant, Carin held the other, which had a Rogue Grid. The grid narrows the beam of light on the subject. The grid had a half Rosco CTO filter on it from the Rosco Location Lighting Kit.  CTO which stands for color temperature orange. Since this scene has a lot of warm colors in the background, I want to add a warm color to her face. Carin’s job on this shoot was to be the VAL, a “Voice Activated Lightstand”. To fire the speedlights I used a Nissin Air1 Transmitter mounted on my camera. This is a wireless transmitter that can also control the power of the strobe from the top of my camera. If I need to change the power, I don’t need to go over to my strobe and break the interaction with my subject.

model, sunset, photography setup
Above a hand-held speed light with a grid is on the left. The speed light on the right has a Rogue Flashbender. It is mounted on a light stand.

Determining the Exposure

When I do this type of shoot, my camera is always in the manual mode. My flash is quite often set on TTL. The Nissin Air1 Transmitter allows me to shoot in TTL or on manual. In TTL mode, I can dial the power for each strobe up 2 stops or down 2 stops in 3 different groups. When I use multiple strobes, I label my lights with their respective group name. My main light is always “Group A”, my hairline light is always “Group B”, and if I was using a third light it would be “Group C”. This enables me to power my strobes up and down independently. For even more control on the output of my strobes, I set my transmitter on manual mode to select brightness from 1/128th power up to full power. When a strobe is on manual, it will send out exactly the same amount of light each time you fire it. When working with the strobes in manual, I use a handheld light meter to read the output of each strobe. I use a Sekonic 478DR. TTL mode is much faster to work with but the exposures will vary whereas manual strobe will give you the exact same output or some variation thereof.

Always start your exposure with the element you can’t control. In this case, it is the available light in the sky. You need to set your strobe so that it matches the available light exposure. Using TTL, your flash will automatically do this, or you can manually set it. Either way, you may have to dial your strobe up or down slightly to get the exact effect you’re after.

sunset, cruise, rails, Royal Caribbean