Sessions outside can be tricky, particularly if you are unable to shoot at the premium times in the day. Dawn and dusk present narrow windows of opportunity when the lighting is approaching its optimal range: these times are also know as “magic hour.” An outdoor photo shoot planned during these hours treats the sun as a source of light at its best, granted what’s in the sky influencing the sun adds a different layer of complexity. In today’s post for fellow photographers, we will discuss a couple of the key lighting principles for a successful outdoor photo shoot, with a focus on mixing ambient (natural) and strobe (artificial lighting).
Outdoor Photo Shoot: Clear sky
The sun acts as a direct source of light on a clear day and what you have to manage for is how that light is bouncing off other surfaces in the scene. For example, shooting on a beach with white sand, light will reflect off the sand and act as a fill to shadows. Sunlight can also bounce of snow and water which acts as a large reflector. What we find when we shoot on a clear day is we need to rely on subtractive tactics – removing light from the scene – in order to produce a moodier shot with more depth (shadows drive depth in an image). We will rely on scrims, flags and overhangs to remove light from the scene.
Outdoor Photo Shoot: Cloudy sky
The examples in this post are from a day with a cloudy sky. The problem with a heavy cloud cover is that with the sun positioned behind the clouds, we had a large softbox: the clouds diffuse the sunlight and eliminate a lot of shadows. The result is a flat image, lacking depth. So we introduced a splash of strobed light into the scene in order to create some shadows and drive some differentiation between the subject and the background.
Outdoor Photo Shoot: Balancing Natural & Artificial Light
We want our images to look like they’ve been lit with naturally occurring light, but we sometimes need a little pop of help to create the depth we want. So balancing between the available, natural light and the strobe is key. We tend to slightly underexpose the background and then add just enough light to our subject to get a proper exposure. The results is a rich image, that doesn’t look like it has been over-engineered with flash.
The key – as always – is to get out and experiment. Push outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself to break your plans. See what limits you can break through.