White produces very soft light and must be held relatively close to the model to have much of an effect. White is also useful for diffusing light and might be held above the model to provide shade from the intense sun.
Gold produces very strong light that is warm. Because the light bouncing off the gold reflector is so intense, it’s a good idea to hold it further away from the model, lest you make them look like they have a cheap spray tan. Note in the image above that the model’s face has a warm glow to it, but that it isn’t too intense. This is because the gold reflector was placed at an appropriate distance.
Silver is a good choice for situations in which there is little natural light because the light reflected by silver is quite intense. If shooting in bright sunlight, hold the silver reflector a greater distance away. Also consider holding it at an angle such that it isn’t reflecting directly onto the model’s face.
Black is an anti-reflector that that helps increase shadows. If your model is facing the sun and the lighting is too even, a black reflector can be used to reduce light on one side, which, in turn, casts gentle shadows on one side of the model’s face.
Translucent is used as a diffuser, much like the white reflector when held above the model to shade his or her face. The translucent reflector has the same effect, softening the natural light of the sun.
There’s just something about an outdoor portrait that catches the eye in a way that an indoor, studio portrait cannot. Maybe it’s all the life, color, and textures inherent in landscapes. Maybe it’s the nice natural lighting that makes the person glow. Maybe it’s a combination of both!
When taking any kind of portrait, lighting is essential. But when you take your portrait outside, there are plenty of lighting options other than the plain old sun. Let’s review a few ways that you can light your portrait subject and create a gorgeous outdoor portrait.
Obviously, natural lighting is the easiest approach to lighting your outdoor portraits. The benefit of natural lighting, especially during Golden Hour, is that the light is soft and warm, and gives your portrait subject a nice glow that’s hard to duplicate with artificial lighting. What’s more, during Golden Hour, it’s easier for your subject to look towards the light without squinting. The soft evening light is also conducive to creating very minimal shadows. There’s just enough shadowing to indicate depth, but not so much that it causes harsh contrasts on the subject’s face.
To maximize natural lighting, experiment with the placement of the model. Take some shots with them facing the setting sun and others facing away. Try some shots with sidelighting too just to see how it turns out. It's helpful to understand the differences between warm and cool light as well.
Natural Lighting Plus a Reflector
A great way to enhance natural lighting is to use a reflector. Typically found in 5-in-1 packages, reflectors bounce ambient light toward the subject, helping to fill in shadowed areas and provide you with more even lighting for the shot. They are useful regardless of the time of day, but especially during mid-day shoots when harsh shadowing can ruin your portraits.
Using a reflector is simple. Place it on the opposite side of the model as the sun, such that it can bounce light onto the shaded side of the models face. The effect the reflector has will depend on it’s color:
Like working with natural lighting alone, using a reflector is easy - you can see the effect it has immediately and take action like repositioning the reflector if need be. Reflectors are also quite inexpensive. The problem is that you often need an assistant to hold them in the right positioning.
Natural Lighting Plus Artificial Lighting
For more complex lighting, you can use both natural and artificial light sources. For example, if it’s a cloudy day and the ambient light isn’t sufficient for the shoot, you might use an external flashgun to add some illumination to your model’s face. For even more powerful lighting, a studio flash on battery power might be used to complement the existing natural lighting.
When using an external flash, you’ll need to be able to fire it remotely, which is often done via a radio system. When trying to pair artificial and natural lighting, it’s important to start out on lower power, such that the flash lighting doesn’t overwhelm the natural lighting. If so, the resulting image may have harsh shadows and negate the nice, soft natural lighting you have available to you. Think of your artificial lighting as being fill lights - they aren’t intended to blast light upon your subject, but instead to cast even, supplemental light on the scene.
Obviously, the benefit of using artificial lighting is that you can cater the lighting to your needs or wants. Artificial lighting can also complement natural lighting quite nicely, for an even, warm light on your subject. But using flashguns or studio lights is not only more expensive, but it’s a more time-consuming process as well.
Each of these lighting scenarios has their benefits and detriments. Just experiment with natural lighting, natural lighting and a reflector, and natural lighting and artificial lighting to see which setup suits your work the best. Whichever method you try, you can be sure that your outdoor portraits will have improved lighting and more of a visual impact.