Recreating the sunset…without the sun

I made absolutely no secret of the fact that I got my very first National Geographic Traveller commission earlier this year. It was, without a doubt, the proudest moment of my career so far, and I’m not ashamed to say so.

I wrote a lengthy piece about it for the Summer Newsletter where I explained just how the job came about in the first place. In that same Newsletter I also shared a photo that never got used, but was technically well-executed. The piece was entitled “Recreating the sunset… Without the sun” and I’d like to share it with you for today’s blog post.


As you can probably see, the weather that day was pretty overcast; pretty dull. So I wanted to add a bit of colour and excitement to the scene by way of recreating a sunset. Now, the thing to remember here is, the sun can still peek through the clouds at the end of the day, especially when the horizon is clear (like over the ocean, for example). In these circumstances the light is always harsh and never soft, so it’s important to not use any softboxes.

As always, I tried putting the flash in a couple of different locations. The winning shot was camera left, so the light shines straight in Jacob’s face. The flash was mounted on a light stand and kept at head-height. It was important to not let the glass or his arm get in the way – that would’ve created unwanted shadows.


The final trick was to use a half cut of Colour Temperature Orange (CTO) gel over the flash. This is what creates the orange glow on the right side of Jacob’s face and body and essentially recreates the dying sun

  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens
  • 1 x Nikon SB-800 strobe set to Manual
  • 1 x Manfrotto 5001B Light Stand
  • Pocket Wizard III Transmitter and Receivers
  • ½ cut CTO gel
  • Exposure Settings: 1/30 sec, f16, ISO 500
  • Edited in Adobe Lightroom