Sunset shoot with Skyler and Mishka

 Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/160@ f5.6

In one of the sections of his book "The Hot Shoe Diaries", photographer Joe McNally talks about the benefits of shooting near the water at sunset.  Since the reflection on the water's surface has almost the same exposure level as the sky, you can actually keep shooting long after the sun has gone below the horizon.

I recently had the chance to try this out with Skyler and Mishka, a couple of models who were visiting Maui.  We shot at a beach house that they were staying at on the southern part of Front St. in Lahaina.

We started off with a few sets in an outdoor shower.


I took these setup shots the following morning so my apologies that it does not show the actual lighting of the previous afternoon.  In this first setup picture, the sun was low in the sky to the right of this location. I setup a silver California Sunbounce Mini reflector to the left of the shower, intending to use it as the main light and the sun as a hair light.

  Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/250@ f4

Because there were a lot of trees to the right of the shower, I soon started losing the edge light as the sun got lower in the sky. I then decided to reverse it and use the reflector as the hair light. I setup an AB800 with a large softbox and used that as the main light.


Since the AB800 was now my main light, I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/160 to match the flash sync speed of the camera.
  Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/160@ f5.6


Would have liked to have more of the water showing, but we didn't want to get the model's hair wet for this shoot.

When we got down to the beach the water was perfectly flat, almost like a giant mirror.  There were several boats anchored just offshore which cluttered up the background, so I used a 70-200 f2.8L IS lens to compress the background and hide them.

 Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/125@ f5.6

For these shots in the water I used an Alien Bees AB800 strobe in a 5-ft Photoflex Octodome, powered by a Vagabond II battery pack and triggered with a Pocket Wizard.


The Octodome has four interior reflective panels that can be set to silver or gold -  I chose to go with 2 silver panels and 2 gold panels to match the warm light of the sunset.


We didn't have an assistant for this shoot this first day, so I kept the lightstand on the shore right at the edge of the water and punched up the power setting on the AB800 to between 1/2 and full power.

 Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/200@ f8


  Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/125@ f5.6

Mishka was really brave for this shoot.  Got all the way into the water to get this shot even though the crabs were biting that day.

A couple of times the flash didn't recycle fast enough between shots and we ended up with silhouettes.
When things like this happen, sometimes it's interesting to just go with the flow and experiment with it.

  Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/125@ f5.6

The sun was pretty much gone by this point so we played around with shooting some more silhouettes for a bit.

  Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS lens iso 200 1/30@ f5.6

As the light continued to fade, I kept dragging the shutter to compensate - even as slow as 1/30th handheld with a 70-200 lens (gotta love that IS lens).  Thanks to reflection of the sky in the water, we were able to keep shooting for a while.

I really liked how the light wrapped around them to add a bit of dimensionality to their forms.
What is also great about silhouette shots is that there is very little retouching to be done. All I had to do in post was clean up some stuff in the water, punch up the colors in the sky a skosh and that was pretty much it.

One thing I should have done differently is shoot it from a lower angle, so that the horizon doesn't cut through the middle of the frame.  If I could have gotten that horizon level into maybe the lower third of the frame, that would probably look better.