Lighting for Outdoor Family Portraits- Types and Tips

Whether you are shooting outdoor family portraits as paid work for your client as a photographer, or capturing family portraits on your vacation trip, you need to get the lighting correct on the subjects to create the best image.

family portrait by the sea

In this guide, I will share the different lighting types that you can use for your outdoor family shoots. I will also share some tips and tricks that you can use to get the best outdoor family portraits in all lighting conditions.

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How to Take the Perfect Selfie: The Right Angle, Lighting and Photo Editor

Taking great selfies requires the right light, angle, setting, and editing. Getting a great shot is so much more than just clicking a button. It requires skill, practice, and good technique.

woman taking selfie with artificial light

Come along and learn how to master the art of the perfect selfie using photography tricks and tools described below.

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The Importance of Light While Shooting in a Studio

One of the most  important things about professional photography is lighting. Light is the one  element that can make or break a photo shoot. Having the correct lighting at the right time is of the utmost importance.

importanceoflight-mainYet, many photographers, especially beginners, tend to overlook this fact. 

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Photographing Weddings With Natural and Available Light

As photographers, light is our raw material. It doesn’t really matter what we are trying to say or capture in an image – if we don’t have light we don’t have a picture! Light has to be the prime consideration and the quality, direction, color temperature, source, quantity (as well as a host of other variable factors) of the light are the elements which can make or break an image no matter how good the composition or the moment being captured.

Many wedding photographers use just natural/available light and the whole idea of natural light photography and photographing the wedding “as it happens” is very popular.

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Perk up photos of snowy scenes with these simple and practical tips

farmstand in winterI spend most of the winter shivering in New England despite numerous layers of silk, fleece, and wool. One of the few consolations that the season offers is the opportunity—often numerous opportunities—to photograph snow. Although driving in snow is wretched, seeing it is glorious.

However, for years, my snow shots were disappointing. I would try to capture a brilliant snowy scene and wind up with an image that appeared dingy or slightly blue. Luckily, the cure was simple.

I had forgotten that cameras are designed to expose for a nice, even medium grey. Grey, not white. So snow throws off the camera’s metering system, which tries to make the snow a nice shade of grey.

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Workshop at the Ranch

Dave Black has a wonderful website. One of his monthly features is called Workshop at the Ranch. There he gives insightful tips on how to use off-camera flash in creative ways. Although anyone using wireless flash units can benefit from Dave’s experience, his series is of particular interest to Nikon shooters using SB-800s and the Nikon Creative Lighting System.

I make it a point to check back each month to learn more from this master of Nikon flash. I particularly like his method of using warm gels with SB-800 Speedlights to create warm subject lighting and a cool blue background. I think it works particularly well for sports portraits, but I’ve used it for a variety of subjects.

Alicia with Basketball

This is an example using Dave’s technique for a Senior Portrait.

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Using Overexposure

Most times when photographers shoot pictures, they work hard to get the exposure correct so that their images reflects what they saw in real life. At times, though, I deliberately over or underexpose for effect. In an earlier post, Creating Blackgrounds, I discussed how to use underexposure to create dramatic black backgrounds. Similarly, you can use overexposure to create other specific effects.


For example, overexposure can create a light, dreamy, impressionistic atmosphere. Edges blur, colors soften, and a light background fades to white. The subject is enveloped by light.

The tulips here look soft and delicate, even though their petals and leaves are firm. The pastel colors suggest spring, new growth, and freshness. A different exposure might have captured the shapes more clearly, but the effect would have been totally different.

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Getting the exposure right

One of the most common problems people have when taking photos is that part of the photo (usually the part that they want to see) is too dark or too bright. For example, when taking a photograph of a friend in front of the sunset, the sunset will show perfectly but the friend is a dark, unrecognizable blob. The problem is that the range of brightness in the scene is too much for your camera to record. So it has to “decide” which parts of the photo it wants to keep (the sunset, in this case) and which parts aren’t as important. And it often gets it wrong.

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Silhouettes: An Old Art Form Made New

Silhouettes were a popular art form in the early 1800s. Film did not yet exist, but skilled artists could look at subjects and then cut out remarkable likenesses using black paper and sharp scissors. People had silhouettes made of loved ones and framed them like portraits. The fad declined in popularity after cameras became more universally available.

Still, silhouetted images can be striking. They are also remarkably easy to create with digital cameras and worth mastering. If overdone, they can be tiresome, but when well done they can be fun.

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Build your own 42″x78″ free-standing lighting panel for about $40

Light panelThe ability to control the lighting in a location can be the difference between a batch of duds and keepers. Nice light is worth a fortune in lenses. Unfortunately, equipment for controlling light can cost a fortune. With that in mind, a friend of mine recently constructed two free-standing lighting panels out of very inexpensive but sturdy PVC pipe (which you can find at any home improvement store).

He uses the panels for portraits indoors and out. Just set your lights up to shine through the panels and position as desired. In addition, outdoors he’s found they work great as portable shade for his subjects to soften direct sunlight.

The parts list and assembly instructions follow. Also, check out the photo set of the assembly process and finished product.

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