How to Create Realistic Artificial Sunlight: An Elegantly Simple Solution To Light a Tricky Location


© David X. Tejada

David X. Tejada’s assignment was a lighting demo for a how-to video and end-use images. The location was a private home where he was asked to create the effect of artificial sunlight. The weather cooperated by providing rain.

“I used two Nikon SB-900 Speedlights, taped together, one on top of the other so they would cast only one shadow,” Tejada explains. The Speedlights, fitted with full CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gels to warm their light, were on a light stand outside the window.

Tejada sat at the other end of the pool, feet in the water, camera in hand, and wirelessly controlled the output of the flash units from the camera and its pop-up flash. “I set the camera for daylight balance, which gave the scene a cooler look, and I let the warm CTO gel replicate warm afternoon sun. Basically, I was faking afternoon sunlight to get the shadows that would be cast by a hard light source, like the sun.”

Two other elements add subtle touches to the image. One is an acetate sheet taped to the window, through which the Speedlights fired. “I used a rubber stamp and permanent ink to put a leaf pattern on the acetate to break up the light for some added interest,” Tejada says. “Sunlight streaming in from outside would be coming through trees.”

The other element is the water polo ball. “Take it away and the photo becomes heavier on the right-hand side. The ball pulls the viewer’s eye, adds a spot of color, and balances the image.”

No other lights were used. “The 1/125 second shutter speed allowed the ambient light from outside to do its job in the left-hand corner of the room,” Tejada says. “It was a pretty simple approach, and I saw no need to complicate it.”

Tech Talk: David X. Tejada made the image with a Nikon D7000 and an AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens. Settings were 1/125 second, f/4, ISO 200, manual exposure, and center-weighted metering.

David X. Tejada’s website,, features numerous examples of his lighting wizardry, a blog of images and notes from far-flung travels, and information about workshops, treks, and presentations.