Adding Off-Camera Flash to your Outdoor Portraits - part 1 of 1 2

by Doug Box Published 01/11/2005


A nice place to photograph, a nice background, but the light is flat. It's coming in from everywhere. Notice the dark eyes and lack of direction. Not a bad image, but it could be much better.

Sometimes do your outdoor portraits lack "snap"? You have found the perfect place to pose your subject and the perfect background, but the lighting is flat or sometimes good light is non-existent. So what do you do?

Look at the difference in the lighting on the face. Look at the difference in the skin tones. A much more professional and sellable image.

The solution is to add flash, off camera. I call it "Ambient Fill Lighting". The ambient light functions as the Fill Light. The offcamera flash functions as the Main Light. This will add direction to the lighting.

Another advantage of adding flash, is that it cleans up the colour of the skin Adding Off-Camera Flash to your Outdoor Portraitstones. One of the challenges of digital photography is colour management. If your light source isn't good, clean light, like from the open sky, then the skin tones can take on the colour of the light. So if the light is bouncing off the grass or leaves, the light will have a green tint. When you try to correct the colour of the skin, the overall image will take on unusual tones

My theory is, "Don't fix it in Photoshop, get it right when you make the exposure!" The less work that I have to do in Photoshop, the better I like it! When I signed on to be a photographer, I didn't envision myself sitting behind the computer for several hours a day. I make my money taking photographs, marketing and selling.


Here is the set-up, a small portable flash, a light modifier, a radio slave, light stand, a light meter, a camera and a camera bag to keep the whole thing from blowing over. An umbrella will work unless there is wind. Even a little bit of wind will blow it over and damage the light. Another problem with umbrellas is lens flare. My current set-up uses a 22" Larson soff box, a Pocket Wizard radio slave unit and a Sekonic L-558 meter with pocket wizard transmitter built in. I use two different flash units. A Sunpack 383 when I need a lAdding Off-Camera Flash to your Outdoor Portraitsight weight flash unit and I use a Lumedyne if I need more flash power or if I am using it around the studio and weight is not a problem. The soff box is much sturdier and is more aerodynamically designed. I use tent stakes to hold down the light stand. I am working with Larson to develop a location lighting kit - for more information go to www.

Here is the procedure:

Step 1. Meter the ambient for example 1/60 @ f5.6
Step 2. Change the meter to flash mode. Use the shutter speed obtained in the ambient reading. In this example 1/60
Step 3. Turn on the flash and read the two together. Your goal is 1/2 stop more than the ambient alone. In this example you want the combined reading to be 1/60 @ f 6.3 (or half way between f5.6 and f 8)

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1st Published 01/11/2005
last update 06/11/2019 11:04:11

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