Skip to main content

Make your outdoor portraits pop with flash

Bright sunny days are a horror for portrait photographers. The harsh light is never flattering and it makes the subject's eyes squint. Then there is the heavy contrast between light and shadowed tones. If you don't choose your location properly you can easily loose the nice mid tones. The trick to correcting this, of course, is to move the subject into the shade.

By moving into the shade you avoid that stark direct sun hitting your subject, blowing out details and enhancing flaws. While we loose the heavy contrast we also can gain a certain amount of 'flatness' to the photo. The reason is that in brightly lit days there are no real soft, diffused shadows. The transitions are sudden. You're either in direct sun or in shadow. No in between. This is where off camera flash can be of help.

By placing the flash inside a nice diffusing modifier such as a softbox or a beauty dish (like the one above) you are introducing light that can help model the subject and fill in the shadow areas.

This image of my model, Christine, was taken outdoors on a bright sunny day. I had her stand on the shady side of a tree with the sun just peeking over her shoulder. As you can see it is a decent exposure. She is well lit and the little bit of light on the side of her face lights the edge of her face nicely. You can see her shoulder, where it catches the direct sun, how blown out the detail appears. While that detail is not important, it gives you a hint to the intensity of the light.

As I mentioned above, the sun was so bright that you were either in sun or in shade. There was no middle ground. You can clearly see the demarcation line between light and shadow on Christine's shoulder. The other thing you will notice is that her face is rather flatly lit. Aside from the rim light and some spectral light on the other side, her face is rather flat without any variation in light and shadows.

I placed the beauty dish to my right (her left) opposite of where the sun is coming from. I also had Christine inch over into the sun a little more. The flash was set at half power and was about two feet from her. You can now notice some major improvements in the portrait as far as the quality of the light on  her face. There is now dimension to it. We went from a flat lifeless light to something with character and subtle transitions. You can also see how it has lit the shadow side of her hair and created a little more contrast on the tree. Even the flat light under the chin is enriched by the use of off-camera flash.

The best part of using fill flash like this is that it creates a nice spot of catch light on the eyes, making them look brighter and adding some life to the rather flat look of the photo above. While dragging around all this extra gear may not be appealing to some of you, you can not dismiss the added benefits of using this technique to make your portraits pop. Of course, if you have an assistant you can always make them do the lugging.


Most Popular Posts

Large DIY Diffusion Scrim

One of the most commonly used tools in my photographic arsenal is the all purpose diffusion screen . I use it to soften light, create gradients and light fields or as a background. One of my current favorites is a metal framed 4' x 4' foot scrim with thick white artificial silk made by Matthews. I didn't think I would use it so much, being so large, but having borrowed it from a friend I really came to love it. The downside for me is the price. At just over $100 I couldn't really justify the cost, considering I want at least two of them. Time for a DIY alternative.

Upgrade Merry-go-round

Canon's release of their entry level full framed camera, the 6D, was a heralded event that received its fair share of anticipation, trepidation and arguments. I for one was looking forward to its arrival as I was in the market for a FF sensor but couldn't justify the cost of a 5D or 1D. Plus the fact that they have more features than I really need. When it came out I was one of the early buyers down at Milford Photo and before long I was unwrapping my new toy. Not soon after I discovered one of the hidden pitfalls of buying new gear; compatibility. In particular it was the compatibility with Adobe's Lightroom 3 which did not support the new 6D. " No problem, " I thought, " I'll just upgrade to LR4. " After all, the newest offering from Adobe promised some nice features I would appreciate. And this is where I got on the merry-go-round.

Must have non-DIY photo equipment

When building up a collection of equipment for either a professional studio or a serious hobby studio, price is always a consideration. I am a big proponent to DIY equipment, specially if it can be crafted in a way that doesn't look home made. However, some things just can't be home made that a well stocked studio can't do without. Here is a small list of some of those little things you will always find yourself reaching for when doing studio work. Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list and there are some useable items I'll surely have forgotten to include. Feel free to add to the list in the comments section below.

Don Julio - Hero Shot

For starters, a hero shot is one in which the product is showcased in all its splendor. Careful attention is placed on making the product look its very best. For this shot of Don Julio I knew I wanted to give the bottle some majesty by photographing it from a low angle. That low angle makes the bottle look tall, towering over the viewer and creating a position of dominance. Can't you hear the choir of angels singing in the background? I also knew that I wanted a rich, moody image with lots of darks. I am partial to darker images, which is surprising to most people because the majority of the work I do are images on white backgrounds. But that's another story. I also tried a lifestyle type shot with glasses and lime slices but I wasn't feeling it and ended up scrapping it. Again, that's another story.