Shooting photos at dusk can be tricky, but understanding a few things about lighting will give your images depth and a 3-dimensional quality.

The main goal is to bring the brightness of your subjects in the foreground close to the brightness of the background. This is best accomplished by using a dedicated strobe, since they are able to output high-level light from a small, portable package.

Step 1: Set Your Background Exposure.

It’s best to use the manual exposure settings on your camera because any auto modes will attempt to balance the lightest and darkest areas of the image. Meter off the brighter part of the scene and leave the shutter set. Start with an ISO of 400.

Step 2: Add light to your subjects.

Today’s dedicated strobes deliver accurate exposures when using their E-TTL (through the lens) auto-metering mode. In this mode, dedicated strobes are designed to flash enough light for your given aperture to create a perfect exposure – unless the subject is wearing all white 🙂

In that case, set the strobe’s exposure compensation to +2/3 of a stop.

Step 3: Use Manual Mode.

If you want to carefully control your exposures, use your strobe in manual mode. First, dial down the power. Start by turning it down to 1/16th of full manual and adjust the power as needed.

Step 4: Try Off-Camera Strobe

Shooting with the strobe mounted on your camera works fine, but for added depth, move the strobe off-camera to the side or behind your subjects. Mount it on a light stand or have your assistant hold it. Bouncing the strobe off an umbrella will soften the light, but more power will be needed.

Using a wireless trigger such as a PocketWizard or Radio Popper will give you the chance to have the E-TTL feature work when the the strobe is not physically connected to the camera. I have tried them all and in my unsolicited opinion, the Canon ST-E3-RT using with the Canon 600EX-RT is the best combo. With the transmitter, you can adjust the auto or manual settings on the strobe from your shooting position.

This set up is good starting point, but as the light falls, keep your settings the same and raise the ISO. Today’s digital cameras will make beautiful images with a strobe up to 1600 ISO and beyond.

To get the most out of this technique, practice before game day so you can capture the beautiful –but fleeting– time of day around dusk.

Check out for finding the best settings and accessories for dedicated strobes.

About Paul Morse

Paul Morse is a Washington, D.C. based corporate photographer. With an approach to image making that employs a sensitivity to the delicacies of light and a masterful understanding of space and form, Paul’s unique talent enables him to produce striking photographs that succinctly communicate through a language of artfulness and craft. 

Paul’s subtle, confident approach has earned him the trust of the President and other world leaders while working at the White House as Deputy Director of Photography from 2001 until 2007 when he desired a new outlet for his creativity.

Paul has been published in magazines and newspapers around the world including Sports Illustrated, Time, US News and World Report, Mens Journal and the New York Times Magazine. His photographs have illustrated the covers of many books on subjects such as the Decision Points by President George W. Bush, Air Force One, the Oval Office and the Los Angeles Lakers. His images are on display in the Smithsonian Institution.

Recent clients include the Brookings Institute, Goldman Sachs, The Clinton Global Initiative, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The International Finance Corporation, The Wall Street Journal and ING DIRECT.

Prior to the White House, Paul worked at the Los Angeles Times as a staff photographer for six years, covering sports, news, and the entertainment industry. His career began at the Pasadena Star-News after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Long Beach.

1 comment

  • All practical uses of the flash, but IMO one of the biggest things to be aware of is when sunset actually is.
    The typical sunset listed in the paper and found via web search is called “Civil Sunset or Twilight” it is when the sun is within 5 degrees of the horizon, for many blown out sunset photos, that’s because the sun is still OVER the horizon, essentially washing out any color, subtle or otherwise.
    “Nautical Twilight” which is when the sun is within 10-15 degrees of the horizon.
    Nautical twilight on the East Coast of the U.S. tends to be between 15 and 45 minutes (depending on the time of year) AFTER the listed sunset time.
    As you progress westward across the globe entering new time zones, the time of Civil vs. Nautical Sunset will vary as well-typically between 10 and 35 minutes. As you approach the PST, and in particular the west coast and Hawaii, the sunset will last longer due to the lack of interference from other objects on the earths crust.
    Longer light means more dramatic images.
    More color in the sky, and hence your images will come from knowing not just your flash, but your environment as well.. Happy Shooting!

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