Outdoor lighting can be both amazing or awful—depending on what time of day you are outside and how you can work with your surroundings! I love outdoor light! It truly provides so much versatility, you can get everything from romantic to dramatic, the sky is truly the limit. I am going to outline the basics of outdoor lighting and how to make the most out of your time outside!
I absolutely love open shade and use this technique often in my shooting. Sometimes, open shade is a hard thing for people to grasp, but once you get it, it is a phenomenal tool in your lighting toolbox. Most often I like to look for large lines of trees to use as my open shade area. Try to find somewhere that has trees, but opens to a large field, so that shade stays on one side.
In the following photo, my subject is positioned with her back to the tree line. This allows for beautiful lighting behind her, but the shade keeps the photo crisp and clear, instead of the hazy light that you would get from a full backlighting situation (more on that to come!).
You can also use open shade with buildings. This is a great option for a more urban feel. One thing to remember when using urban open shade is to make sure that there aren't any colorful buildings opposite of your shade. You do not want the sun reflecting funky colors on to your beautiful subject! In the following image, I have my subject placed next to a wall of a large building that opened to an alleyway and then a neutral colored building on the other side.
Backlighting can bring a beautiful surreal quality to your images. It is a wonderful way to achieve the “hazy” look in camera, instead of in post processing. When you backlight, you definitely need to be in manual mode, and you will want to meter off of your subject's face, so that the face is properly exposed. In the following photo, my subject had her back to the sun and I was shooting just slightly off center from her. Many people shoot their backlit images directly into the sun, but I have found for me, it works a bit better to take just a side step the the left or right and shoot at a slight angle, so that the haze is not too harsh. Also, using a lens hood can cut down the haze if it is too strong for you.
Harsh sunlight happens when the sun is high in the sky (during the day) and creates harsh shadows on your subject. This is not the ideal time to take photos, but if you are anything like me, my day does not stop just because the sun is high! I still want to be able to take beautiful photos of my children doing their normal daily activities! So, while I usually reserve my portraits of my children for the evening, I have a few tips for shooting in the daytime. The first thing is to use open shade when you have it! If you have a wall, building, trail through trees, or a tree line, you may be able to find some open shade. If you can't, the next thing I try to do is move to an area with less grass (maybe a sidewalk or driveway). The grass tends to take on a “neon glow” when the sun is high and can also reflect some interesting colors onto your subject's skin. If I must shoot in the grass, I try to lay a blanket down or use a reflector as a last resort. Even in harsh sunlight, for best results, I always try to position my subject with his/her back towards the light.
A lot of photographers believe that as long as you have a cloudy sky, you should have good photos. And while, a cloudy sky does give you a giant soft box in the sky, you still need to follow some basic lighting rules! Cloudy skies around noon will still result in harsh shadows (albeit not as harsh as full sun), so it is still best to avoid that time of day. I also still use a lot of open shade and a reflector can come in really handy on a cloudy day to bring the light back into the shadows.
Also known as “Magic Hour”, this is basically the dream photo time for photographers. It begins about an hour before sunset and ends about an hour after. The sun is soft and beautiful during this time, allowing for manny different lighting situations. This is also the best time of day to achieve the colorful sunset silhouettes.
WEEK 6 CHALLENGE: This week your challenge is to get outside and use as many different kinds of outdoor lighting as possible! Be sure and try backlighting, even if you haven't before and keep that camera in manual mode! Go like the Kensie M Photography Facebook Page and post your favorites from the week there! We can't wait to see what you are working on. And remember we love questions, so feel free to post them in the comments section!
Kensie Malmfeldt is a natural light, on location photographer serving the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia areas. She began her photography journey over 9 years ago when she gave birth to her first sweet little girl. She quickly became frustrated with the photos she was taking of her and set out to learn everything she could to become a better photographer. She studied and perfected her art for years before deciding to open her doors for business. She is known for her colorful, fun, and beautiful custom portraiture work. She has a knack for making people feel comfortable and confident, which in turn, produces natural, beautiful artwork. Other then photography, she enjoys crafting, being outdoors, and spending time with her wonderful family.