Skip to main content

How to Light Outdoor Portraits

Learn how to light outdoor portraits from professional photographer Joe Sinnott in this Howcast photography tutorial.


I'm Joe. I teach photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I'm going to talk about lighting for outdoor portraits.

Keep your subjects out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight on people's faces creates big, deep shadows and makes everything that could possibly be wrong with them show up ten times worse.

Get them in the shade or photograph them on an overcast day.

Keep your background out of focus so that its indistinct and use a reflector. When you bring in a reflector, it just adds a little bit of light. Just enough to make them stand out from the background and smooth out their skin tones a bit.

Lift your chin a tiny bit. Nice. Turn your head a tiny bit right. Very fabulous.

Keep them out of mottled sunlight or mottled shade. That's going to create hot spots all over them that are very, very hard to deal with afterwards.

If you have to shoot in direct sunlight, as weird as it sounds, get the sun behind your subject so it's not right in their eyes and making them squint and creating all those shadows. Use the reflector on this side to bounce some of that light, just a little bit of it, back into the face and this way the sun creates a little bit of a nice rim on the hair and the shoulders.

Chin up slightly. Good. Turn your head a little bit to your right. Chin down.

You've got to be careful how you let your subject move their face because with the sun coming from a little bit of an angle or from behind, if they lift up a little bit one way or another you're going to get little hot spots of sunlight on their face that don't look great and will look overexposed compared to the rest of the picture.

That's terrific. Lift your chin up just a little tiny bit. Lift your chin up a little bit more. Hello. Turn your head a little bit to your right. A little more. Little more. And now the sun is completely off your subject's face. And you've got a nice highlight hitting the shoulders and spilling down the hair.

And those are some tips for lighting outdoor portraits.

Popular Categories