Shooting at sunset can create truly captivating images, but shooting into the sun can cause major lighting issues for your subject. Your subject is going to be in a shadow…. nearly a full silhouette if you expose to capture the sunset (it should be noted that I do love an occasional silhouette shot). If you expose to light up your subject, then your background gets completely lost and ‘whites out.’
(This quick tip is designed more for those with DSLR cameras with which you have full control over your ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed settings, though point-and-shoot cameras can benefit from this tip as well).
So what do you do when you want both the sunset and your subject visible in your image? Use a reflector. The professional, expensive photographer’s reflector? Not necessarily! I do not usually shoot with an assistant, so bringing my pro reflector with me doesn’t usually work. To improvise, I have been known to use a white or light colored blanket hung from a tree, a sheet of white paper, and at my last photo shoot, I had one of the family members in the party (who was wearing a white shirt) come stand next to the subject. Anything white will reflect light onto your subject beautifully.
As a side note: I also use reflecting objects to light subjects that are in shadows, to light up the other side of the subject’s face in a side-light situation, and sometimes even in that ‘perfect full-shade’ situation to give a bit of interest to the photo.
Here are some examples of what a make-shift reflector can do:
Backlit Photos | How to Backlit Photography | Back lighting photography | Using reflectors in photography