After lurking around on Flickr and Instagram for inspiration in recent days, I once again felt the need to do something different for my figure photos.  I wanted to do something from the comfort of my own home, and thankfully there was an idea right outside my balcony.

There’s a pretty nice view from the balcony of my apartment, which overlooks a wooded suburban neighbourhood. When the clouds cooperate, the sunsets viewed from there can be pretty spectacular. As clich√© are they are, I figured a sunset may be make for a good backdrop. The plan going into this was to balance the ambient light from the sunset against the key light coming from an off-camera flash with an orange colour gel and soft box on it. The orange gel is meant to match the warmer light of the setting sun.

The first attempt was over before it started because it was raining, but I took some practice shots anyways. It was here where I experimented a bit with the tone curve to make the darkest portion of the photos appear slightly faded. In conjunction with the orange and blue split toning, I was going for a vintage post-processing look that’s pretty common in portraits. The big gap on the left side of the histogram felt wrong to me, but I do like the different look.

The second attempt at the sunset backdrop didn’t work out either. I was surprised at how fast the sun was moving, which constantly changes the light as it shifted towards the horizon. I scrambled with the settings and barely got any usable shots before the sun was gone, but those shots weren’t any good for a number reasons.

First of all, the sun was mostly obscured by thick clouds, so there is barely any orange in the photo. Secondly, the balance between the ambient light and key light was out of whack — the key light overpowered the ambient light. Most importantly, the lighting doesn’t make a lot of sense — the key light is clearly completely the opposite direction of the sun, making the whole shot look unnatural.

I found a bit more success with the third attempt. Even though the background is extremely out of focus at this focal length, the sun’s orange glow and the colour contrast against the bluish clouds added some interest to the image. To enhance this, I edited this shot similarly to the first warm-up shot. I faded the blacks slightly and added some blue tint to the shadows. This gives it that slightly vintage look while adding further to the blue-orange contrast.

Here’s the glamorous setup for the shot. The key light was re-positioned slightly behind the figure to make it a little less obvious that the shot is not shot with natural light.

It was a fun (but hectic) experience racing against the sun to get things right. On side note, I have newfound respect for landscape photographers. In a genre that demands perfection, being at the mercy of the weather and timing seems really stressful. I suppose being able to capture something elusive is a big part of the appeal — something I should really get more practice with in the future!