The best lighting conditions for outdoor photography are highly dependent on the location, time of day, and subject matter. To get the best lighting for a particular type of photography, you’ll need a different set of tools and techniques. Particularly when you’re out in the open and exposed to the elements.
As a result of this, shooting indoors gives you greater control over your mise-en-scene, which refers to everything in the frame (or has an impact on what’s in the frame) in terms of light, shadow, background, and other elements. Stepping outside makes it much more difficult to maintain control over these variables.
Outdoor photography, despite its difficulties, has the potential to be extremely rewarding. In a studio, you can’t take pictures of beautiful landscapes or wild animals. Shooting in the open lets you make the most of the available light. To help you get ready for your next outdoor shoot, we’ve gathered some lighting tips for outdoor photography, broken down by style.
1. Landscape Photography
Nature’s light, while unpredictable, can be an asset when photographing landscapes. The more you pay attention to and understand how sunlight is affected by time of day, weather, and your surroundings, the more control you’ll have over it.
For outdoor photography, there’s no better time of day than the golden hour. This refers to the time right after sunrise or just before sunset, whichever comes first.
The sun is brighter and more direct during the middle of the day, resulting in harsher shadows. When the sun is higher in the sky during the golden hour, the light it emits is more diluted. When this happens, the light is redder and more pleasing to the eye, making it ideal for taking beautiful photos. As the sun sets or rises, you’ll likely see a kaleidoscope of colors. This offers a chance to produce visually appealing images that are one of a kind.
The best time to take a landscape photo isn’t necessarily during the golden hour. On occasion, it’s more creative to go out and shoot during the daytime. Harsh shadows can be used to create eye-catching images. You can also reduce the intensity of the light by using filters. Sunlight filtered through trees in a rainforest can appear ethereal. A lens filter is another option. A neutral density filter, for example, will reduce the amount of light entering your lens uniformly, allowing your camera’s dynamic range to recover more quickly after using it.
When it’s cloudy or raining, your photos will look different because of the natural light. With blue tones instead of red tones the light will be softer even during the day. You must plan ahead if you intend to make use of natural light. In the days preceding your shoot, keep an eye on the weather reports. Going out shooting on a gloomy day is pointless if you want warm, bright photos. Even on a cloudy or rainy day, you can get some great landscape shots. Your creative vision will be the deciding factor in the end. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead so that you can make the most of natural light when it arrives.
2. Outdoor Portrait Photography
Outdoor portraits can be great during the golden hour, but you have to be prepared. In the golden hour, the light can change dramatically in a few minutes’ time, so timing is critical. As the light changes, it will be difficult to take multiple portraits that all have the same feel and look.
The amount of light entering your lens is important when taking portraits in the middle of the day. It’s easy to get washed out skin tones when shooting outside in direct sunlight because of the harsh shadows it casts. In order to avoid harsh light hitting the subject’s face, it’s best to move them to a shaded area.
An overexposed background is another problem you’ll probably run into. You can fix this problem by using the fill flash technique. A camera flash will be required. When it comes to portrait photography, the built-in flash on your camera may be adequate, but if you plan on doing so frequently, you’ll want a more powerful external flash.
The first step is to make sure your camera’s ISO and aperture are set correctly so that the background of your picture is properly exposed. However, your subject will become dark as a result of this setting. The flash will illuminate your subject without affecting the background, resulting in an evenly exposed photograph when you take the picture with the flash. Your flash or camera settings, or the distance between you and your subject, may need to be adjusted to get the perfect exposure. There should be enough light on the subject’s face for it to look natural without looking like you used a flash.
A light meter can also be used to figure out what camera settings are best for getting the best possible exposure. Despite the fact that most cameras come equipped with an in-built light meter, these devices are generally unreliable. The amount of light reflected off your subject is what they’re looking for. The light falling on your subject can be measured with an external incident light meter as an alternative. Holding the meter close to your subject’s face and pointing it at the light source will provide you with the exact camera settings you need for a well-exposed photo. The meter can even be used in conjunction with a flash to get the best results.
3. Macro Photography
Outdoor photographers love macro photography because it focuses in on small details. It entails taking incredibly close-up photos of almost anything, but insects, flowers, and other naturally-occurring textures are common subjects. When taking macro photos, look for images that have vibrant colors and capture the intricate details of a small subject.
Lighting is critical when taking photos of objects that small. With the right lens and camera, the sun can often provide more than enough light for a good shot. On a sunny day, this style, like the others, may have an excess of natural light. Before taking a picture of a stationary subject, you may want to wait until they’re shaded or the sun is hidden behind a cloud. When the natural light is softer on an overcast day, it makes for excellent macro photography conditions.
You may need to use a flash if there is insufficient light. The camera’s built-in flash should never be used. Due to your proximity to your subject, these flashes will not work properly. As much as you can, use an external flash and keep it to camera’s side so it’s farther away from the subject. You’re attempting to introduce fill flash, just as you would for an outdoor portrait. In other words, not so much light that your subject is overexposed as to be obvious, but just enough to fill in the shadows.
A strong flash may scare away an insect you’re trying to photograph. If you only require a small amount of additional light, a reflector may suffice. Add more natural light to your shot by placing a silver reflector beneath your subject and moving it around in the light.
4. Daytime – Overcast Weather
For many outdoor photographers, a cloudy, overcast day is a non-starter. When it’s cloudy outside, the light is boring and lacks any depth or drama. On days like this, I used to rarely take my camera out.
Even in overcast conditions there are some types of photography I enjoy taking better because of it. Using a cloudy sky as a giant softbox creates a soft, even light that is ideal for a wide range of subjects because it is easy to set exposure.
4.1 – Capturing Details
These are the days to pay attention to the finer details rather than taking in the grand panoramas. Because of the even lighting, small details in flowers and plants can be captured more easily without having to worry about harsh shadows obstructing the scene. The following two images were captured in gardens on a cloudy day with a flash.
Water Droplets on a Leaf
4.2 – Street Photography
On a cloudy day, getting down to street level and capturing details is a great option. A consistent light source makes it simple to determine the proper exposure. If the light doesn’t drastically change, you only have to worry about it once. To focus on interesting street scenes like these two women sitting and talking by a bridge in Venice is liberating.
Venice – Italy
Bucharest – Romania
Weather conditions like this one in Bucharest, Romania, make for great backdrops for environmental street portraits like this one of an aspiring violinist. Any studio lighting can’t compete with the light coming through the clouds!
The details on building facades look their best on overcast days. On this particular day in Venice, the sky didn’t look all that exciting so I decided to ignore it entirely and focus solely on the rustic façade of a small courtyard house.
House Façade in Venice
In fact, flat light makes photographing cityscapes much simpler. See the two images on the following page. They were both captured on Dublin’s Temple Lane. It was too bright on one side of the street in the first picture. I was able to capture every last detail in the second photo thanks to the overcast lighting conditions.
This version has plenty of exposure problems with clipped shadows and blown highlights.
The flat light allows all the detail to be captured.
There is plenty of detail in all of the textures in this Venetian streetscape thanks to the even light.
4.3 – Wildlife Photography
It’s easier to photograph wildlife when the light is flat and overcast. Again, on days like these, the light illuminates the scene uniformly, allowing for the capture of fine details. Instead of fiddling with exposure settings, you can focus on your subject matter, just like with street photography.
Phoenix Park – Dublin
I rarely capture images of wildlife, but I was fortunate enough to be present when this herd of deer passed through Dublin’s Phoenix Park. It’s possible that one of the deer remembered he forgot to turn off the immersion the previous morning when he suddenly stopped and looked back.
4.4 – Minimalist Style Photography
Doge’s Palace and San Giorgio Maggiore – Venice
Overcast skies with no visible clouds are ideal for photographers who like their images to have a simple aesthetic. It’s easy to see the street lamp and San Giorgio’s church because the sky is so sparsely painted.
Recently, I’ve developed a growing fascination with this more pared-down approach to photography. The majority of my pictures are filled with a lot of fine detail and bright colors. Every now and then, it’s a good idea to branch out and do something new.
5. Dappled Light
On a sunny day, looking for dappled light can provide some unique photographic opportunities. A tree canopy’s gaps often let dappled light shine through, and this is what we call dappled light. This reduces the glare from the sun.
Sonsbeek Waterfall – Arnhem
The dappled light in this wooded area of a park in the Dutch city of Arnhem made for an attractive photograph of this waterfall.
Tavira – Portugal
This small square in Tavira, Portugal, was bathed in dappled light from an overhanging tree’s leaves.
In Tavira, I used the camera on my phone to take most of the photos. The best camera, they say, is the one you have on you at all times.
In fact, taking a leisurely stroll without all of the bulky camera gear is quite pleasant. In the interim, I purchased a small digital camera that I now carry almost constantly in case a photo opportunity presents itself. There is a one-inch sensor in this camera, which is a lot larger than the tiny sensor in a phone, which can still produce decent results on its own. As a result, I’m free to capture beautiful images without having to lug around a lot of gear.
Cooley Peninsula – County Louth
There’s plenty of contrast between the lights and shadows in this forest thanks to the dappled light.
While there are other approaches, for the most part, natural light works best when photographing in the outdoors. Time of day, weather, and camera settings are all important considerations when taking photos. Additionally, you may want to consider purchasing outdoor photography accessories like a flash, light meter, or a reflector.
The best way to learn about outdoor photography lighting is to take your camera out into the real world and play around with it. Consider how the light changes throughout the day and how your camera settings and accessories can help you capture the best shots. Weather or no weather, there’s always something interesting to photograph when you’re out in the open.