Outdoor Photography Lighting Tips

Many photographers don't give very much thought to lighting when taking photographs outside, but lighting is as much a factor outdoors as it is inside. Learning how to work with the light and to compensate for extremely bright conditions is an important skill for any photographer. If you plan to take a lot of night shots, the built-in flash on most cameras may be suitable for close-ups, but eventually you will want to invest in a more powerful flash.

Fill-in Flash

While amateur photographers may think a flash is used only when there isn't enough light, professional photographers routinely use a flash outdoors to compensate for harsh lighting caused by the sun. This is especially useful when taking a portrait to ensure the face is fully lit. Without a flash under bright conditions, a face may appear dark and gray compared to the background. On some cameras, if you open the flash using automatic settings, the flash will provide just enough light to make the face brighter and reduce shadows caused by the sun.

Shade & Reflectors

For best results when shooting a portrait, have your subject stand in the shade rather than the direct sunlight. Sunlight makes people squint and creates strong shadows under the eyes, nose and mouth. If you are going someplace where there isn't a source of shade, you can purchase semi-transparent shades in most camera shops, which someone can hold above the model's head. White reflectors are also useful for balancing out the light by positioning them under the model's face. If you are only taking a picture of the face, the model can hold the reflector, otherwise you will need someone to help. If you don't have shades or reflectors, white pieces of cardboard can also be used.

Using the Sun as Backlight

Asking someone to stand directly between the camera and a low sun may seem like the worst thing you could do, but if you're looking for unique experimental shots, this can create some stunning effects. You should be careful never to point your camera at the sun as this could damage the camera and your eyes, but having the sun directly behind your subject can create a soft lighting effect on the face. When the sun is close to the horizon, if your model is positioned directly in front of the sun, the face will appear dark but the hair and silhouette will look like they are glowing.

Night Shots

Unless you are very close to your subject, taking shots at night with a built-in camera flash will not normally give you very satisfying shots. If your camera has a shoe, as most DSLRs do, you can purchase a more powerful external flash to light up the darkest night scenes. If you get a flash that can tilt and has a manual mode, you can also experiment by bouncing the light off of different objects. The timing can be tricky when bouncing light, but with a little practice, you will quickly know what settings to use for the best effects.

Photo Credits: Heidi Monner/Demand Media

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