By William Lulow
Whenever I go outdoors to make a portrait, or any photograph of a person for that matter, I try to think of the location as a “studio.” If it were possible, I would set up my lights in exactly the same way as I would in a studio. In fact, there have been times when I have gone on location with a location van and a portable gasoline generator so that I could plug my lights in and set them up as I would indoors! Obviously, everything one takes on location outdoors really should be portable and easily set up or broken down. With certain additions to your basic equipment list, you can really exercise almost the same amount of control outdoors as you can inside the studio. Some of the items you use outdoors are:
1. Reflector Cards (30×40″ white),
2. Battery-powered flash units,
3. Light stands with sand bags or weights (to keep them from blowing over in the
4. A sturdy tripod,
5. Reflector umbrellas (silver lined, for extra intensity when needed),
6. Shade umbrellas (for the camera and lens to reduce lens flare from the sun),
7. Travel cases to protect equipment, film, etc.
Since you will be operating outside, it is important that you make a checklist of all the things you will need so that nothing is forgotten. List all the equipment that you would normally take on location. Then, as you pack up each item, make sure you check it off your list. This will also help in not leaving any items behind when you have finished your outdoor shoot. Another good idea is to “scout” the location before you bring your equipment and subject with you. Make sure that you can shoot where you want to, and that you can get any necessary permission. Make sure that the light will be coming from the proper direction at the time of day you intend to shoot. The basic idea is to minimize any “surprises” you might encounter, because in following through with the idea of treating the location as another “studio,” you still want to be able to exert control over the shooting situation. You cannot do this if you have to think about other things. Your mind should be free to concentrate on the lighting and your subject. Just as in the studio, outdoor lighting should look natural. This may sound funny, but if you think back to some of the earlier points in the book, you will remember that harsh light from a single light source may be a natural way to light someone, but it is hardly flattering, nor is it always easy to look at. In the same way, direct sunlight, although a very “natural” form of light in the strictest sense, is almost never flattering. It can be even difficult for your subjects to open their eyes in direct sunlight. For this reason, I always try to keep the sun behind my subjects and to light their faces with reflectors or with flash. In other words, the sun is almost always used as an accent light!
Sometimes, the sun, when bounced off a reflector, can be transformed into a beautiful soft light and often, reflectors are the only additional lighting equipment you will need outdoors. However, it also becomes necessary to add more light to the subject’s face than you can get from just a reflector. This is when you must have some form of additional light. The easiest way to light someone outdoors is with a portable flash unit. They come with their own battery packs and some of the simpler units just use regular “AA” sized batteries. More professional units have high voltage battery packs which give more flashes and more power to the units. (If you use battery packs, make sure you always have extra batteries, just in case). In addition, many of the professional units can be detached from the camera and mounted on light stands for more artistic lightings. As with most flash units, it is impossible to predict what the final lighting effects will be without looking at your camera’s LCD. So you can make sure of your lighting setup by doing a few “test” shots before you actually begin involving your subject in the process. If you can find somewhere to plug in your lights indoors or if you have a portable gasoline generator with you (and the necessary strong men to carry it), you can actually use many of the lighting setups I have described previously.