Awesome light when



Get Outside!


Shooting outside is what we mostly do, right?  I mean, the world is our studio!

So learning to get great light when shooting outside is absolutely imperative for photographers.  In this lesson, you will learn four different types of lighting situations, and tips on how to get the most out of each lighting situation.


  1. Backlighting
  2. Open Shade
  3. Overcast
  4. Dusk

Let’s get started!



The easiest way to create great light on the people you’re photographing is to back light them.   Especially when shooting out in the open, or in bright sun, put the sun at your their back to create soft, beautiful light.

See the diagram below to see how to backlight:

Notice the person is between the camera and the sun? This is backlighting.

There are several benefits to backlighting your subject.  The first, is that the light hitting their face is soft, diffused light; light that is bouncing off the ground or structures nearby.  This bouncing creates diffusion which brings much softer light.

The second benefit of backlighting is that shooting this way keeps the bright sun out of the people’s eyes, which means they aren’t going to be squinting at you.  People squinting doesn’t make for awesome images.


engagement couple foreheads touch

bride and groom snuggling pine tree

bride and groom snuggling close cherry blossoms


I backlight my subject almost 100% of the time.  It creates that soft light that is so beautiful in my pictures.  Notice also in the three images above, if you are shooting against a bright background, backlighting also gives you a light and airy feel to your images.

Another awesome thing that can happen when you backlight your subject is beautiful sun flare.


backlighting gives sun flare


Sun flare can add such a beautiful feel to your images, but just like any technique, you need to use it sparingly.  If you deliver a set of images to a client and every image lacks contrast from sun flare, you’re most likely going to have a reshoot on your hands.  So be sparing in all the techniques you use.

As with anything, there are some secrets to backlighting properly.  Keep reading, and let me tell you what those are.


Tips for Backlighting your Subject.


• Watch your exposure


Because you are reading this, it tells me you are serious about photography.  That means I am going to treat you like you want to become a professional, are a professional, or at least want your images to look like a professional shot them.

This conclusion means that you shoot in RAW and that you edit your images after you shoot them in Lightroom.  Hopefully, you do this, because the quality of your work will increase significantly by shooting this way.  If you are not currently shooting this way, then, my goodness, it is time to start.

OK, back to the lesson.  What I mean by, “watch your exposure,” is that you need to be careful with the highlights in your image.  Do not expose for the face of your subject, let it go a bit dark and make sure you have detail in your highlights.  The benefit of this is that you will brighten image later in Lightroom and have detail in BOTH the highlights and the shadow.

Below is a straight out the camera version of the image and an edited version of the image.


family walking through grass holding hands dark

family walking through grass holding hands


Notice on the first image, how dark the faces are.  This is because I wanted to keep detail in the grasses they are walking through.  Had I exposed for their faces, the grasses would go way too bright and lose detail.

So expose your image to keep detail in the bright areas of the image.


• Use a Reflector


A reflector is so important when backlighting your subject.  It will open up the shadows on the face and brighten the eyes.

In the first example below, my reflector is to camera right.  This brings brightness to the bride’s face on the right side.


bride and groom snuggling

In these next two images, the reflector is to the camera left and brings shape and dimension to the face as well as brightness to the eyes.


Follow this link to see some great reflectors.  This link will take you to the exact reflector that I use.




The next way to get great light when shooting outside is to find and shoot in open shade.  This is especially imperative if you are shooting balding men.  This will keep them from having that bright glow on the top of their head.

Take a look at the images below to see how open shade made them better.


family portrait in sun under tree


On this first image, notice the dad’s head.  There is a slight highlight there, but if I had placed him in the sun, it would be way too bright.

Notice how bright the background is here.  This session happened at 1 pm in the afternoon… full sun.  For me to get detail in the background, I had to expose for the highlights, the tip you learned about above when backlighting.  Shooting in this way allowed me to brighten the family and bring back the detail in the grasses.


wedding family group next to barn

family portrait under tree in shade


Open shade can extend to where the background is the same brightness as the subject as well.  This type of open shade makes it easier to keep the background from getting too bright.



On this image of the bride, you can also see that I used a reflector to shade the light on her face.  The reflector is off camera to the right sitting in the sun and bouncing the light on her face.

Tips for Shooting in Open Shade.


• Use a reflector to direct light onto your subjects face.


I won’t repeat everything on this one, as it is the same tip as I listed in backlighting.  Scroll up to take a look at that again.


• Create a dark side to the face with open shade.


I know it sounds very Star Wars like, but it really is true.  In open shade, you can get a dark or shadow side to the face by bringing your subject close to an object.  That object can be a wall or a tree, or whatever!

As you bring your subject close, the side closest to the object will go dark, while the side of your subject away from the object will be the bright side.  By doing this, you will create beautiful light that brings shadow and dimension to the face.

In the image below, the tree to camera right creates a shadow side to my subjects face.  This shadow brings depth and dimension to the image.



On the image below to the left, this forest the couple is in opens onto a lake to camera right.  I simply faced them in that direction so that their faces had a bright side and a dark side.



The image on the right, of the girl pushing her hair back, the wall of the building we are standing by is to camera right.  This gives that side of her face a shadow side.

Make sense?  When shooting in open shade, bring your subject close to an object to create a shadow side to the face.



Another great lighting option when shooting is when it is overcast.  Shooting when overcast makes choosing a background easy, but it can make getting excellent light harder.



Shooting when it is overcast has its share of problems.  Don’t get in the mindset of, “Woohoo! It’s overcast; I can shoot anywhere I want!”.

This will get you into trouble.

If the clouds are thick and dark, you are going struggle to get great light.  In fact, men generally have deeper set eyes than women do, and so in when shooting in dark cloud cover, men begin to have sunken, dead looking eyes.  Not cool.

Take a look at the image below; it was shot in overcast conditions:



Is it awesome?  No, not by a long shot.  Let me share with you some tips when shooting in overcast conditions.

Tips for Shooting in Overcast Conditions.


• Use a flash or off camera light to lift the shadows.


When shooting in overcast conditions, use a flash or off camera light that is set at least two stops below your exposure to brighten the shadows.  Take a look at the image below; it is the same as the picture above only I used an off-camera flash set two stops below my exposure to brighten the shadows.



Not hard to see the difference, right?  The light is simply lifting the shadows in the eyes and on the face to create a much better image.  You could even use the pop-up flash on your camera if you have one.  Simply use the controls on your camera to drop the flash compensation down two stops.  If you are not sure how to do that, check out my book on camera settings here.  It will help you learn how to adjust these settings on your camera.


• Don’t backlight when shooting in overcast conditions.


I know what you’re thinking…  It’s overcast, how can I backlight?  Trust me; you can.  There is a direction to the light even when it is overcast.  When shooting in overcast conditions, front light your subject.  You can figure out which way to face your subject simply by holding your hand up flat with your fingers close together.  Then, without moving your hand, look at both sides to see which side appears brighter.  If you can’t tell, it may mean that the cloud cover is too thick and your subject is going to have dark, sunken eyes.

Figure out which is the front light, and front light your client to get the best results.




Shooting at dusk, or right before, will help you get soft, beautiful light.  I know some photographers will only shoot one session a day and it has to happen at dusk.  I’m not saying you need to shoot this way, but if you do find yourself absolutely requiring great light, shooting at dusk could be your answer.  Below is a family session I shot at dusk to get awesome images.



Tips for Shooting at Dusk.


• Flare is very easy at dusk whether you want it or not.


Sun flare occurs easily at dusk and can help you create some awesome images!  However, you may not want it.  So be careful, and make sure if you have the sun in your image, you know what you’re doing.

On the images below, I think the flare is pretty cool.



On the next few images, the flare you can decide if the flare helps or hinders the image.



Shooting at dusk can be a fun way to learn how to capture sun flare in your images.  Get out and try to see how creative you can get with sun flare.





You finished the Outside section on my lighting course.

Now is your time to get out there and practice some of these tips and techniques!  As you do, your skill for capturing light outside will improve dramatically!

Have an idea of something I can add or change?  I’m all ears; please let me know!  Hit contact at the top and shoot me an email.

Ready to move on?   Click ‘Inside’ in the menu to move to the next section.


Learn how to get awesome light anywhere!


Great photography begins with great light, so it's imperative that as a photographer you learn how to find and capture great light.

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