Vi in the Sahara

Portrait of Vi, Erg Chigaga, Sahara Desert, Morocco, Africa

Portrait of Vi, Erg Chigaga, Sahara Desert, Morocco, Africa

Here we are – The Sahara Desert, a few months ago, the sun has just set, twilight colours enrich the sky and I’m about to give an off camera flash lighting tutorial to my workshop group. Vi is the model looking amazing on the sand dune, we’ve got David as a the fill lighting assistant (holding a Nikon SB600) and Anne holding the main flash (Nikon SB900), Phil is the stylist – his job is to throw the scarf in the air so we can get that element of motion to the image.

I love working at this time of day, twilight is an exciting time to mix in lighting with the fading ambient light. For a shot like this I had figured out where I wanted the subject beforehand, knowing the sunset was in that direction, there wouldn’t be time to get many shots as the light was fading – I wanted to retain colour and detail in the sky and you’ve only got 30-40 minutes after the sun sets to achieve this. Before everyone else has got to the location I’ve metered and worked out the approx exposure for the ambient (existing) light. Its around 1/80th at F4, ISO200, but that will have dropped by the time we’ve got the lighting all set. Next get the model (Vi) in position, then the main light, from my position this is coming from my 4 o’clock, usually I’d look to soften the light with an umbrella but its too far away and will kill too much power. I could move the flash closer but this shot was as much about the setting – The Desert, as the model so we want to keep it fairly wide.

The 2nd flash is coming from my 10 o’clock, slightly behind the model, want this one to add a rim lighting to the back of Vi’s outfit and hit the scarf. This flash is dialled with 1 stop less power than the main. With any shoot like this it takes a bit of time and experimentation to figure the right exposure, angles. To start with we had the stylist (Phil) blocking the fill flash so we had a change angles. Being able to constantly check the preview on the camera-back is a godsend for these kind of shoots, with film this would be a very tricky shoot, helps explain the prevalence of ambient – artificial lighting combo shoots in the editorial sunday supplements these days.

Anyway – with it all set and the shutter speed dropped a stop to allow for the ambient drop in light since we started, (now at 1/30th of a sec) we’re ready to shoot. Remember the shutter speed doesn’t affect the flash exposure so I was using manual exposure mode and tweaking the shutter to get the right balance between ambient and flash. If I change the aperture or ISO then they will affect both ambient and flash lighting. It takes us a few goes to get the scarf throw just right but when it works it really works – we huddle round the camera to check it out. Time for a few more exposures before the light has gone…1/15th at F2.8, ISO200 on 24-70mm Nikon Lens
Next Morocco trip is 7-14th March 2013 –
Model – Vi Rowshankish
Stylist – Phil Goddard
1st Lighting Assistant – Anne Cawardine
2nd Lighting Assistant – David Austwick


One thought on “Vi in the Sahara

  1. Even with the help of modern camera technology and walking lighting appliances, there are many factors to consider when taking pictures like this, and it was interesting to see how the Pros do it. A fascinating experience and a great shot!


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