The Manuel: Controlling Light on a Beautiful Beach Island
Spend a blissful day beachside at Magens Bay on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, with photographer and filmmaker, Emmanuel Phillips (The Manuel). In his words, Magens Bay is “one of the most beautiful beaches in the world” and it doesn’t disappoint. With its white sand coastline, crystal-blue water, and breezy green palm trees, it’s not hard to understand why Magens Bay is a sought after Caribbean destination.
Watch and learn as Emmanuel shows us how to shoot in full sun by controlling the light with nothing but a V-Flat and the help of an assistant.
Shooting in Full Sun on the Beach
If you’re a photographer tasked with the assignment of a beach photoshoot on a bright sunny day, you owe it to yourself to learn how to control harsh light. Shooting in direct sunlight on the beach creates unflattering shadows and distracting highlights on your subjects.
The solution to photographing in direct sunlight is to even out the light. Lucky for you, this is an easy fix. There are several ways to even out the light, but we’re only going to focus on using a V-Flat to work some light modifying magic.
Creating Open Shade
One way to tame the harsh realities of direct sunlight is to find or create open shade. Open shade is simply any place where direct, overhead sunlight is blocked but still receives light from its surroundings (whether reflected or bounced). This is where the versatility of a V-Flat comes into play. V-Flats create open shade by blocking light. They can also add light as well as subtract it.
Open shade is “one of my favorite ways of shooting,” says Emmanuel. That’s because open shade is easy to achieve and yields beautiful portraits.
Let’s come back to Emmanuel as he finds a willing model in the form of Magens Bay lifeguard sitting in the open shade of a green lifeguard stand with a red shirt casually thrown over his shoulder.
For our color-theory lovers, did you notice the complementary red and green tones playing off of each other? Complementary colors create visually pleasing contrast. An added bonus is the pop of blue from the lifeguard’s mirrored Ray-Bans. That bit of blue catches our eye and also pulls the ocean into the photo. Viewers are always drawn to the eyes in an image. Even though we can’t literally see his eyes, this is a unique way to draw us into the portrait.
V-Flat Setup #1- Negative Fill & Blocking Light in Open Shade
With his model already seated in the open shade of a lifeguard stand, all Emmanuel needed to do was cut a bit of light from camera left with the help of a V-Flats black surface.
“I like what the sand is doing to his glasses, but I wanted to take a little bit of light away from this side,” said Emmanuel after opening the V-Flat to full height and positioning it on the lifeguard’s right side.
Photographer Emmanuel Phillips shooting in open shade with the black side of a V-Flat facing his model to cut light from the model’s right side.
The resulting open shade portraits + negative fill from one V-Flat are impressive for such a simple setup. It pays to know how to control the light while on location.
V-Flat Setup #2 - Negative Fill + Blocking Reflected Light in Direct Sunlight
Time for some white sand action next to the water. Keep in mind that white sand acts like a reflector, bouncing light up from the ground to your subject. Like a natural chin fill.
Emmanuel placed his model near the water with the light coming from behind his subject to cut down on deep facial shadows. Then he placed a V-Flat to the model’s left to flag any light reflecting off the ocean and sand. The negative fill from the black side of the V-Flat on the lifeguard’s left adds dimension to the image.
V-Flat Setup #3 - Creating Open Shade With a V-Flat Held Overhead
For setup #3, Emmanuel demonstrated how to hold a V-Flat overhead to create an open shade effect much like the scene from V-Flat setup #1 with the lifeguard stand. This is where an assistant comes in handy. Emmanuel’s assistant held the white side of the V-Flat over the model to block the overhead sunlight while also reflecting ambient light.
The result? Beautiful beach portraits.
V-Flat Setup #4 - Find a Shaded Area and Bounce Light with a V-Flat
Let’s take this beach session into the foliage with the help of a picnic table surrounded by various trees and palms.
“One of the things I also like to do is find a shaded area and then use the white V-Flat for…a little bit of bounce underneath.” - Emmanuel
Here’s Emmanuel shooting beach portraits in open shade with the help of a V-Flat underneath the frame to bounce light onto the model.
And there’s nothing like swaying palm fronds to add that island vibe. Here’s a behind the scenes video still of Emmanuel’s open shade beach shoot with a white V-Flat to bounce light onto the model (aka chin fill).
Don’t forget to shoot through palm fronds and other flora like Emmanuel did here to add visual interest and dreamy foreground bokeh.
V-Flat Setup #5 - Use the Ocean’s Reflective Qualities + V-Flat for Open Shade
Time to get wet. Well — don’t get the V-Flat wet — but you “can’t be at the beach and not get in the water,” says Emmanuel.
We completely agree.
To add specular highlights and a bit of sheen, the lifeguard willingly took a dip in the water before posing in the Caribbean with a V-Flat held overhead.
Let’s take a look at the shots.
Looks pretty spectacular to us. Beachy, color-rich photos with all the vibes of summer.
Well done, Emmanuel.
Special thanks to photographer and filmmaker, Emmanuel Phillips, for showing us how to control outdoor lighting with a single V-Flat.
Wanna Learn More?
There’s no need to stress about how to get gorgeous beach portraits if you understand how to control direct sunlight.
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Emmanuel Phillips @efexphotography
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