Dusk and dawn are magical times of the day for flash photography. The sky is usually at it very best 15 to 30 minutes before and after sunset and sunrise, weather permitting of course. Combine these rich colours creating stunning backdrops with an interesting well-lit subject at exactly the right moment and… Boom!!! You have a photograph that everyone takes a second look at and a shot to be proud off.

Leopard climbing tree lit with camera flash

This may look and sound complicated and difficult but in actual fact it is quite easy once you know how.

The most important aspect of getting this right is to take full control of your camera, you do not want the camera guessing in any way what you are trying to achieve. In order for this to happen you will have to switch to manual mode. At this point some of you may panic, DON’T its not that difficult, just follow these simple instructions.

Now with your camera on manual you have the ability to change your ISO, aperture and shutter speed. I would suggest selecting an ISO in the region of 800-1250 (this is just a good starting point you may have to adjust this to get exactly what you are looking for). Now when look through your viewfinder, of most DSLR’s , you will see a light meter either at the bottom or on the side (see images below)

Camera display of focus pint grid and light meter reading

What we want to do is to correctly expose for the colours in the sky, to get this exposure correct you will need to meter off the sky (focus on the sky by pressing the shutter button halfway). You will need to either adjust your aperture or shutter speed, as you make adjustments to these you will see the indicator on the light meter move, adjust so that the indicator is on the 0 or in the middle of the light meter scale. Be careful not to make your shutter speed too slow as your image may end up blurry due to camera shake if you are shooting without support. Once you have your settings, re-compose your image focus on your subject and take a picture with your flash off. You should end up with a very dark subject, possibly even a decent silhouette.

From this image you will be able to determine if the colours you are getting in the sky are as you want them, if not follow these steps below:

Sky is too dark (underexposed): Slow down the shutter speed or open up the aperture a little eg. Drop from f6.3 to f5.6.

Sky is too light (overexposed): Increase the shutter speed or close down the aperture eg. go up from f5.6 to f6.3.

Once you have this sorted turn on your flash, set the exposure (output) on your flash to -1 (once again just a good starting point) now retake the image you have just taken and hopefully……BOOM!!! You have your image! if it is not what you are looking to achieve follow these steps below.

Do not adjust your shutter speed or aperture as this will affect your background:

Subject is very bright (overexposed): Lower your flash exposure eg. from -1 to -1.3

Subject is too dark (underexposed): Increase your flash exposure eg. from -1 to -0.7

Whole image is too dark: Increase your ISO.

Things to remember:

• Shutter speed and aperture affects the background.

• Flash exposure (output) adjusts the light falling on the subject.

• ISO adjusts the exposure of the whole image.

• Make all adjustments in 1/3 increments and test.

The secrets to creating a successful photographs like these are:

• Be aware of the scene you are shooting and how it changes constantly and adjust settings accordingly.

• Pay attention to the background as well, not just the subject.

• Be careful not to over flash (overexpose) the subject.

• Find a good balance between the ambient light in the background and the light from the flash.

Well, I hope this tip has been helpful to you, keep shooting and may the light be with you!

Leopard lying on ground looking to the side
Leopard sitting on branch with blue sky background
Leopard lying in tree with paws hanging over large branch
Leopard lying on a thick branch resting its face in between small branches
Leopard sitting with setting sun in background
Young elephant walking through grass plane next to river with blue and yellow sky
Leopard resting on low branch with soft orange sky
Owl sitting in tree looking to the side