How to create the ultimate fake sun with a strobe (with lighting diagrams)

Jan 23, 2017

Felix Barjou

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

How to create the ultimate fake sun with a strobe (with lighting diagrams)

Jan 23, 2017

Felix Barjou

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Nikon d800 1/200s – f2.8 – ISO 100 – 50mm

Some shots need a sun. Sadly the sun is not at the optimal angle at all locations. Heck, if you are indoors (say at your studio) there may not be a sun at all. This is why there is a need to create a fake sun.

Creating a fake sun is easy, once you know the light qualities of the sun, and really, there are only two of those. It’s (1) small, and (2) orange. Actually, the sun is not really that small, it’s huge, but it is so far away that it small in relation to our field of view. The sun is actually not orange either, it’s white, But the light that gets here to earth becomes orange after it goes through the atmosphere. So while the Sun is neither small nor orange, it is small and orange for us. And this is the light we are going to reproduce.

The setup that I am using for this is pretty constant, I use a full CTO gel placed on a small bowl reflector. The bowl reflector mounted on a small strobe acts as a fairly small and directional light source. The gel gives an orangy look which is what you would get from a setting sun.

For the first photo (shown at the top), I wanted to create a look of a car driving into the sunset. The car is not really moving, placing the lights for a moving car would be a nightmare (though not impossible). This may be a good time to mention that to get a good fake sun, there has to be some distance between the talent and the strobe, otherwise, the light falloff is too hard and makes no sense.

For the next two photos, I wanted to create an atmosphere of a hotel at sunset, so I placed the strobes outside the window and let it light the light curtain. (same CTO gel and standard reflector). The curtain diffuses the light, in a very similar way to how a softbox will act.

Nikon D750 1/100s – f2.8 – ISO 800 – tokina 16-28mm
Nikon D750 1/100s – f2.8 – ISO 800 – tokina 16-28mm

This photo is a bit different. For two reasons: The first, as you can see from the diagram, is that the “sun” is actually in the shot and is creating a flare. This is an artistic choice and it was fitting for the atmosphere I wanted to create. The second is there is another (non-gelled) light bounced from a reflector on camera right to fill in some shadows. This strobe is set on a lower setting so it does not wash the orange colors away.

NIKON D800 1/200s – f4 – ISO 100

The last shot, I want to feel like the sun is already touching the sea, so a stronger orange had to be used. Instead of a full CTO gel, I opted for a full orange gel.

Nikon d800 1/200s – f3.5 – ISO 200

All the fake sunset photos have gelled-strobes in them, how do you mount the gel onto the strobe? I use a piece of velcro on the sides of the reflector and on the edges of the gel sheet.

It looks like this. Note the difference in color between the full CTO and the Orange gels.

About the Author

Felix Barjou is an Advertising, Portrait, artist and wedding photographer based in France. You can read his blog here. And you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, youtube and Instagram.

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One response to “How to create the ultimate fake sun with a strobe (with lighting diagrams)”

  1. Gosia Grant Avatar
    Gosia Grant

    I will try that tomorrow!