Achieving a sunset look when photographing at mid-day

This is a lighting technique I came up with years ago to obtain the look of a sunset or late afternoon light when I had to shoot at in mid-day.  It was easier when I originally did it because I was shooting on film, and in addition the lenses were not as coated and resistant to flare as they are today.  At the time I used large 4'x8' foam panels that were used as insulation in building construction.   They were covered with a shiny silver mylar and had a a large red design printed all over.  This gave a very warm color when it reflected the sun.

I positioned the panels behind the model and angled them to reflect the sun so the light hit the model out-lining her in a glow, and then the light entered the camera lens to cause a severe flare.  This technique works best when the lens aperture is very open.

For the examples below, instead of the construction panels, I used two large Wescott 72" Gold reflectors.  You can see them directly behind the model.  There is no fill at all from the front so the model is completely back lit. This is a difficult situation for a lens to auto-focus.  A lens with a wide open aperture helps.  In the samples below I used a zoom lens with an aperture of f/2.8 and a focal length of 125mm for the top image and 200mm for the bottom one. 

I placed two large and very shiny reflectors behind the model to serve as a partial background and positioned them to pick up the hot mid-day sun, and reflect it past the model's face and directly into the camera lens
For the top photo I wanted the warm-colored, playful light of a summer sunset, whereas for the bottom image I wanted more of a desaturated tone to emphasize the serious, no-nonsense intensity of the athlete's stare.  A warm Photoshop filter gave the upper image its color, while the Vibrance control dialed down the color in the bottom photo.


  1. Hi, I truly love your blog and I believe I have read at least a years worth in the last two days. ;-) The model at the bottom however does not look like an athlete neither in posture nor stare, I am not sure why. She looks wonderful in the playful set above.

  2. I tend to agree with you. This shot was taken a few years ago. Photography styles have changed considerably in just that little time. I would shoot this subject with a much grittier look today.

    Thanks for you comment and for taking the time go pour over the blog. Always nice to know someone is out there appreciating the efforts. :)