You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in portrait photography to take great photos outdoors. By using natural light and a few small photography aids you too can capture great outdoor portraits. In this tutorial we’re going to share with you some outdoor portrait photography lighting tips. So let’s get started!
Lighting Tips for Outdoor Portrait Photography
Photos by nicole.pierce.photography
Utilize the natural light
Natural light surrounds us, but sometimes it’s not enough to get a good portrait. If you know exactly when and where you’re going to be shooting you’ll have a better idea of calculating what type of lighting you’ll need. As is the case with most outdoor photography, shooting at midday is generally considered to be the worst option.
Taking your photos earlier or later in the day is often recommended because the light is warmer in tone and softer, but overcast conditions are also typically suitable. Warm light and low contrast works well, especially when the subject is lit from the back and you don’t really need a flash or reflector in these circumstances.
Photo by Lilnassau Hubpages and Videomaker.com
Combine natural light with reflected light
You’ll find that a disc reflector like the 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector can be a great help in outdoor portrait photography. The reflector is ideal if you want to add a little brightness to the subject or to fill a shadow in. However, the reflector needs to be positioned relatively close to the person since their range is somewhat limited. If the reflector doesn’t do the trick you may need to use a strobe.
There are options when it comes to reflectors such as silver/white combination surfaces as well as gold, silver, and diffusion etc. Many people prefer the silver/white option, but it’s a personal preference and the lighting conditions may also affect your choice. For example, a reflector can work well when your subject is in the shade with the sun directly in front of him or her. The person can be positioned in the shade or shadow as the sunlight is then reflected onto him/her. Just be careful not to reflect the light in the subject’s eyes, causing them to squint.
Try a light panel
A device similar to a reflector, but larger, is a light panel. These are ideal for full length shots or when you can’t position the reflector close enough to the subject. You can create a light panel from PVC frames as well as white plastic shower curtains that have been attached to the pipes by tape. Of course, you can also buy light panels from Amazon.
Commercial panels typically come with bungee-style cords which open up, enabling you to attach the preferred material, which could be diffusion material, or colored in black, gold, silver, or white etc. The process is similar to a reflector. This means the subject can be placed in the shade while the light panel is in the sun and it bounces the light onto the subject, creating textured lighting along with shadows and highlights.
Photo by Chasing Picture Perfection
Strobe and flash lighting can be the solution
On some occasions you’ll find there’s still not enough light with a reflector or light panel or the light is bright, but there’s too much contrast. In this instance, a strobe light or flash could be the answer. Flash is often good enough, but a portable strobe is ideal for shorter shoots when you have enough battery power.
If you’re shooting a static setup, a mono light strobe works well outdoors with lighting umbrellas and it can be done quite quickly. Deciding whether to use flash or a strobe will generally depend on what effect you’re aiming for. A strobe and umbrella can make the subject stand out from the background as they can be made slightly brighter. A strobe can brighten specific areas in the scene when needed.
Making the best of it
Unfortunately, natural light isn’t always the best option for outdoor portraits. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to consider using flash and/or reflectors to make the best out of your situation.
Like what you read?
Then join 10,000+ other photographers who have downloaded our best-selling Mastering Photography Book Series on Amazon.com
Each book is jam packed with tips and tricks that'll teach you how to become a better photographer, fast. With hundreds of positive reviews already from photographers just like yourself, you'll find it to be a great resource.
Just click the button below to find out more about it.