- Tips for Successful Impromptu Portraits
- Easy Tips for Better Environmental Portraits
- Lifestyle Portrait Tips
- Video Lighting Tips for Beginners
- How To Use Fill Light for Outdoor Portraits
- Basic Portrait Lighting Principles
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Natural light is great! For photography and videography, supplementing or enhancing natural light is also a good method to get the results we want. Adding an artificial light for outdoor portraits frees us from the exposure and directional constraints we are under when using natural light alone.
Done properly, adding an artificial light for outdoor portraits will still appear very natural in the finished pictures. Sometimes, it even looks more natural than ambient light on its own. Let me explain…
Natural Light Causes Unnatural Shadows
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Human vision is a marvelous process. Light comes into our eyes, controlled by the iris (our natural aperture blades), hits our rods and cones (our natural sensors), and is interpreted by our brain’s vision centers (our natural image processing engine).
When we’re outside with another person, we look at them and all of these processes happen automatically. It’s so automatic that our brain actually helps interpret the scene to compensate for wide ranges in contrast of light and shadow. Auto HDR and matrix metering, you might say.
That’s our brain. Our photographic and video sensors and processing engines don’t have the computer power or intelligence to interpret scenes this way. They’re really good, but we have to help them along.
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A scene that includes brighter areas and shadows requires extra work from the photographer or videographer in order to end up looking as natural on screen or paper as our brain would have interpreted it in real life.
That’s where our nifty gadgets and tools of artificial lighting come in. Learning how to use natural light and artificial light together will free us up from the directionality and exposure constraints mentioned earlier, plus it will give us results for still photography and videography that look natural.
So let’s get started with what you came here to find, outdoor portrait lighting tips, the best portrait lighting setups, and some general portrait photography tips.
Fill Light for Outdoor Portraits
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Even when partially or fully obscured by clouds, trees, or manmade structures, the Sun is a powerful source of light. It also has excellent natural characteristics, so it’s reasonable to use it for imaging people.
You may have noticed that when you turn someone to face the light for a portrait, either full on or lightly to the side for a little added modeling depth, that the exposure is easy to get correct, but the high contrast from light areas of the face to shadowed areas looks distracting in the final image.
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In addition, the portrait subject will be squinting, even if only slightly, which affects the natural, pleasant facial features we’re trying to capture. So, we turn them around to not face the Sun. Now they have stopped squinting but their entire face is in shadow and there is little or no contouring or modeling.
The simple solution is to add some light back onto the subject. There are two common methods to do this, a reflector or an artificial light from camera position or nearby. A reflector is great but they are somewhat limited in directionality.
Fill Flash or Continuous Light?
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Automatic flash control is one of the boons for photographic automation that many photographers like me have enthusiastically adopted. Whether doing it manually or in an auto mode, fill flash for outdoor portraits works by adding just the right amount of light to fill in the shadows while balancing the ambient light for a natural appearance.
You can use flash as the primary light source which can be beneficial at times but that approach tends to underexpose the surroundings. Fine if that’s your intent, but the natural look we’re discussing with artificial light for outdoor portraits mixes and balances ambient and added light.
We have a lot of options in our current digital photography, one of them being super lightweight, compact, cool operating, and powerful LED continuous lights, such as the Hakutatz Pocket Size RGB LED Light.
The Hakutatz is light enough to comfortably hold at arm’s length and the LED lights are cool operating so you won’t have to worry about heat if holding it in your hand.
Instant Visual Feedback
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An advantage of portable continuous lighting for adding artificial light for outdoor portraits is that you can instantly see the fill and the modeling effect of the light as you move it around.
I highly recommend moving the Hakutatz LED light around as you also direct your subject since you will be able to capture some very natural and spontaneous views of the portrait subject. After all, that’s our primary intent for this discussion, achieving the natural look our brain automatically sees.
You might want your camera on a tripod for this, but I also find that I can use my autofocus points and other camera controls one handed while holding the Hakutatz light in various positions. Practicing our good general hand holding technique will help.
Keep Them Moving
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My outdoor environmental portrait sessions are some of the most enjoyable photo shoots I do. Using all of the modern tools of digital photography can really free up your creativity, the model’s too.
Whether your camera is on a tripod or handheld, you can keep the model moving and also keep rearranging the light in your hand or on a bracket for implementing the best portrait lighting setups.
I like to tell my subject in these sessions to change facial expression or move slightly every time they hear my camera shutter. Although with my new mirrorless cameras, I may also say something each time since these cameras are very quiet and we are outside.
For a close up of their face or head and shoulders, you can ask the subject to hold the light themselves, opening up some more creative posing and portrait lighting setups such as split lighting or Rembrandt lighting.
Works Well for Video, Too
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The same tools and many of the methods we use for adding artificial light for outdoor portraits will transfer over to our outdoor videography as well. Keep trying out new methods, new tools, and new ideas, you’ll get some very natural looking results.