Outdoor Portraits

by William Lulow

One of the important techniques to making good portraits outdoors entails balancing the ambient light with fill-in light from portable flash units. When there is direct sunlight, I like to have my subjects with the sun behind them (which makes it act as an accent light) and then to fill-in faces with light from my flash. If there is no direct sunlight, I will sometimes create highlights with several flash units. The thing to remember is that, believe it or not, the light from a flash unit is actually brighter than the sun, (for the purpose of making a photograph), because it is much closer to the subject.

I did this the other day for a family portrait:

Here you can see the effect of two lights placed on either side of the group and another at the camera position to fill-in the faces. Here’s what part of the set-up looked like:

Here you can see the placement of one of my accent lights. The other was on the other side of the “set.” I chose this background to show a bit of the house and to provide some different levels for the subjects.

Here is an image made with the sun acting as an accent light and a single flash as a fill-in:

I normally begin with taking a reading with my light meter of the ambient light and then I keep my fill-in light usually one-half to one f/stop darker in order not to overpower the daylight. My accent lights are used “raw” and are therefore usually one f/stop brighter than the ambient light so that they will register as white highlights on the subjects.

Here is another example:

You can readily see the effects of the accent lights and how they add a sparkle to the image.