An Expert's Guide to Outdoor Lighting for Photography

An Expert's Guide to Outdoor Lighting for Photography - Mastin Labs


Outdoor lighting provides photographers with a rich and diverse spectrum of possibilities, as well as some very distinct challenges that can vary immensely depending on the time of day and weather conditions. Mastering control and understanding of natural light is fundamental to capturing a stunning outdoors photoshoot, whether for outdoor portrait photography or landscape shots.

Here's a closer look at understanding the different qualities of natural light you may encounter when shooting outdoors and how you can make the most of each to capture stunning, original photographs.

Understanding the Types of Outdoor Light

Capturing the beauty and intricacies of the outdoors relies heavily on one crucial element: light. It plays a transformative role in how we perceive and photograph the world, bringing subjects to life, casting cool shadows, and adding depth, contrast, and color.

As each day unfolds, the qualities and characteristics of outdoor light shift and evolve constantly, presenting an array of opportunities and challenges for portrait and landscape photographers alike.

Full Daylight and Overcast Days

Direct sunlight can provide plenty of light, but it often creates harsh shadows and notable contrast in your photos. While it may be challenging to control, it can also create powerful and striking photographs when used effectively.

Overcast days, on the other hand, are cherished by many outdoor photographers. The cloud diffusion acts as a colossal softbox, providing soft light and reducing harsh shadows. This makes for excellent lighting quality, especially for portraiture, where softer light can flatter the subject.

You can achieve the same effect in areas of open shade, which is still illuminated by the ambient light but lacks the harsh shadows and bright tones of direct sunlight.

The Golden Hour and the Blue Hour

These periods, the hours surrounding sunrise and sunset, are truly magic times for natural lighting. During the golden hour, the hour before sunset, the warm, golden light casts long, soft shadows and gives your subjects a beautiful glow. The blue hour occurs before sunrise or after sunset, when the indirect sunlight takes on a blue hue, offering serene and tranquil photo light for landscape shots.

Night Photography

While many photographers look for locations with lots of light, night photography can also produce stunning results. The lack of light requires you to think creatively, specifically about your ambient light and camera settings for outdoor portraits.

Don't forget your constant light sources, whether it's the moon, artificial city lights, or even starlight. Each can contribute in its own special way to a creative and distinctive night shot and even become the subject of a landscape lighting photo.

An Overview of Camera Gears and Settings for Outdoor Photos

For outdoor photos, a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a wide or maximum aperture can capture more light and detail. Essential equipment for outdoor photography includes a tripod for stability, especially necessary for low-light conditions, and several lenses, such as a wide-angle lens for landscape photography and a fast prime lens for portraits.

In terms of settings, start with shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. For harsh daytime sun, use faster shutter speeds to compensate for the abundance of light. In contrast, a slower shutter speed should be used during low-light conditions. There are no one-size-fits-all settings, so testing and experimenting is the best way to achieve your desired results.

Tips To Master the Direction of Light When Shooting Outdoors

The direction of light plays a significant role in outdoor lighting photography. 

  • Side lighting: This technique creates a three-dimensional feel by casting shadows along one side of the subject, adding depth to your outdoor portraits.
  • Top lighting: This occurs around noon when the sun casts dark shadows. Use a reflector or fill flash to lighten unnatural under-eye shadows.
  • Backlighting: When light comes from behind your subject, it can create a dramatic and glowing outline. This is commonly used during golden hour for dreamy portraits and landscapes.
  • Front lighting: While challenging to capture in a non-flat manner, front lighting in photography can illuminate your subject beautifully, especially during the golden hour when the light is soft.

Perfect Your Outdoor Portraits With the Best Presets

By mastering natural outdoor lighting techniques in photography and understanding their nuances at different times of the day, you can transform your outdoor shoots. But to truly elevate your photographs to professional status, consider polishing your images with presets from Mastin Labs

Outdoor photography requires a balance of technical understanding, visual cues, and creative experimentation. With these tips, you're well on your way to mastering the world of outdoor photography. Grab your camera, chase that light, and embark on an adventure immortalized in magnificent photos.