Using Flash for Outdoor Portraits

Portraits are all about light, so you should begin the process of creating great outdoor portraits—including glamour photography—by looking for locations where there’s plenty of natural light but I’d also suggest that you bring along your electronic flash. Even the small pop-up flashes that are built into most digital SLRs can perk up your outdoor portraiture. The key to improving your outdoor portraits is knowing when it’s the right time to use flash.

1/200 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 200

Start by looking at the existing light falling on your subject and evaluating the range of shadows and highlights that appear within the scene. Learning to see light is not difficult but takes practice and using the SLR’s LCD preview screen will help you analyze your outdoor flash photographs to see if your efforts are successful. My guess is that with a little experience your answer about when to use flash outdoors will be “most of the time.”

All of the ingredients necessary for making great outdoor portraits are easy to find: All you need is a subject, a camera, and some light but like any good recipe it’s how all these elements are combines that goes into cooking up a delicious portrait. Just like Emeril’s secret ingredient Essence, I’d like you to add your own special spice to the outdoor portrait—flash.

When there’s plenty of ambient light as your main light source, the best way to use your on-camera flash is as fill. This helps separates your subject from the background and focuses the viewer’s attention on the subject. In fact, when you have too much ambient light using flash lets you control contrast and add dimension to the photograph.

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 9.13.43 AMIf you’re interested in shooting portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from with, as I write this, new copies selling for$17.50 (plus shipping,) just a few bucks more than used ($15.34,) both cheaper than the Prime price.


Author: Joe Farace

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