How to Use Natural Light for Stunning Outdoor Portraits
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Eden Bao Photography
I think we can all agree that the best lighting for portraits is natural light.
But sometimes natural light needs a little bit of help...
Whether that's using fill flash or a reflector to fill in shadows, positioning the model in the shade, or simply having the model rotate to get the best lighting, there are plenty of easy solutions for the obstacles you might encounter when taking portraits outside.
With that said, here's a few outdoor portrait tips that will help you learn how to use natural light for portraits.
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Find Some Shade
Denise Van Photography
Perhaps the easiest way to mitigate the problems with outdoor portrait lighting is to simply find some shade.
As you can see above, heading outside on a cloudy day will help to protect against harsh highlights and deep shadows on the model's face and body.
That's because the sunlight is filtered through the clouds, which acts like a huge softbox to soften the light.
Ilyin Mapp Photography
You can also find shade under a grove of trees or in the shadow of a building.
As shown above, by filtering out the light such that your model is in the shade, you again protect against harsh highlights and shadows.
Additionally, note how this image makes use of a high-key background to give it a little more brightness and visual appeal.
The overexposed background combined with the gorgeous, dark gown makes for a wonderful combination!
How to Use Natural Light for Portraits: Rotate the Model to Capitalize on the Best Light
Bailey Smith Photography
In some instances, having the model face the sun is the best choice. In others, it's preferable to have them face away from the sun. In still other instances, utilizing side-lighting might get you the best shot.
The only way you can determine which type of lighting is the best is to have the model rotate to change their positioning related to the sun.
In the example above, having the models positioned with the sun behind them was the most preferable, as it allowed the photographer to add some brightness to the background.
What's more, that backlighting helps illuminate the matching mommy and me gowns that the models are wearing, which adds another element of brightness to the photo.
Little Fredericksburg Photography
You can even bring the outdoors in by positioning your model near a window.
In such cases, having them turn towards the window helps fill their face with soft light.
As you can see in the image above, that soft light accentuates the model's facial features as well as the detail of the lace gown that she's wearing.
Additionally, that soft light helps maintain our focus on the model given that the rest of the shot is relatively dark.
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How to Take Outdoor Portraits: Use a Fill Flash or Reflector
Kate Boggs Photography
One of the biggest challenges with outdoor portrait photography lighting is managing the shadows created by the sunlight.
Having a model with a deep shadow under their eyes, nose, or chin is not a good look...
To address this problem, you can use a fill flash to illuminate the model and fill in those shadows.
In the example above, the light is entering the scene from our upper right.
But with a bit of fill flash, the shadows that are cast to the bottom left of the model's nose and chin are minimized.
Amber Fite Photography
In this example, you can see how the use of a reflector helps illuminate the model whose back is to the sunlight.
When using a reflector, you simply bounce light back onto the subject. In this case, a gold reflector was used to keep the light on the model nice and warm.
However, you can use a silver reflector for brighter, harsher light or a white reflector to tamp down shadows.
Really, no matter which of these outdoor photography tips you use, you'll end up with a much-improved result.
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