Wedding & Portraiture
Simple Lighting Techniques For Professional Photography Outdoors

Professional photographic technique means an approach that works consistently--no trial and error. Through the years I have developed several methods for lighting outdoors that have become a significant part of my style. I'll detail some of them for you.

Sometimes outdoor lighting is fine as it is. But most of the time I usually find that I can improve upon it by supplementing it with additional light sources or taking some of the light away. Such was the case recently when I taught a one-day class in Sarasota, while making a new series of videotapes.

We began the morning by visiting one of Sarasota's most famous landmarks, the Ringling Museum. One of my favorite techniques for photographing outdoors is shown in this first series of photographs.

My first thought is to look for an area that is covered overhead and has light coming in from the side. At Ringling, it's easy. There's a covered porch that runs the length of the U-shaped building, so I can work on either side it. My preference is to work where the direct sunlight is not coming in.

Once I've located an area in which to photograph, I decide how much of the background I want to show. In these first pictures I wanted to include only the area that was protected from the direct outside light, which meant using a 150mm lens on my Hasselblad. This lens not only concentrates the area to just what is behind my subjects, but at the same time it also tends to flatten the background, bringing columns closer together.

Photo 1.
Photos © Monte Zucker, 2000

I began by posing Danielle (Photo 1) slightly off-center, so that the lights above would not seem to be coming down into her head. I knew that to achieve detail in her gown I needed to turn her body away from the direction of light and then turn her face back toward the light.

My thought was to split light her face with the light coming in through the columns, lighting mainly the left side of her face. To be sure, there was light coming in around to the other side of her face, but not really enough to put light into both of her eyes and open up the shadowed side of her face and figure to suit my taste.

So, what do I do in a case like this? I expose for the ambient light and then add more light. My exposure is based on an incident light meter reading achieved by turning the meter directly toward the camera and exposing for what the meter reads. Then, I take the reflector off my Quantum flash and position it as I would normally position my main light, light getting into both eyes, just a little to the same side as the daylight and slightly above the level of my subject's eyes. A second Quantum flash is placed behind the bride to light her veil. You have to agree, looking at these pictures, it makes a world of difference when you're backlighting her veil, doesn't it? Both lights are triggered from the camera position with a Quantum Radio Control slave unit attached on top of my Hasselblad.

Photo 2.

I noticed while posing Danielle by herself that JJ was seated casually on the arm of a bench. I liked what I saw and decided to photograph him almost the way he had posed himself (Photo 2). The only changes I made were to lean his body slightly forward toward his knees and to make certain that his head was tilted to make it perpendicular to the slope of his shoulders.

Did you notice the way I brought his left arm forward onto his leg to create more base for his head? Also notice that I've positioned his shoulders almost directly toward the camera. From camera position you see both of his shoulders. Many people lean their male subjects over the hipline toward the camera. This tends to create one very large shoulder, while showing practically nothing of his back shoulder. Not good!

Photo 3.

The lighting? I once again used the ambient light to split light his face and brought a bare bulb in, camera right, to help wrap the light around his face and put some light into his eyes. You can see the shadow from the flash on the wall behind him.

The second spot in which I posed the two of them was against the plain wall along the side of the porch (Photo 3). The pose was the same, but the background was simplified a great deal this way. I still used the depth of the area behind them to create an incredible feeling of space.

Photo 4.

Now, we come to a completely different concept of the two of them. This time I wanted to show the brightly lit scene behind them: the garden area of the museum's atrium, featuring the statue that has become the symbol of Sarasota. Since detail in the background was important to the success of the photograph, my concept here was to expose for the background and bring the intensity of the light on them up to the brightness of the direct sunlight behind them (Photo 4).

With the background selected, my next thought was what lens to use. I wanted to show the outdoor setting in its full glory and still keep the bride and groom as the center of attention. For me, this has always meant using a wide angle lens, keeping the subjects close to the camera. My choice, then, was to use my 40mm or 60mm lens. I figured that my 40mm lens would include too much behind them and weaken the image. I started with my 60mm lens, liked what I saw and left it that way.

By this time, JJ had taken off his jacket and slung it over his shoulder. I left it that way and decided it would be a good change to have the contrast of his vest against his jacket to keep the attention on the two of them.

Photo 5.

I first posed them out in the sunlight, but the sun was so bright, they couldn't keep their eyes open. I finally brought them into the shade of the overhang, backlighting them with a strong flash to give the idea that they were still being backlit by the bright sunshine.

The next important thing was to establish camera position, so that their heads would be placed against a simple part of the background and the trees would not seem to be growing out of the back of their heads. I used my regular setting for bright sunshine outdoors--1/125 of a sec at f/16. I had the power of the flash brought up also to f/16. It was a done deal. The flash behind them, of course, once again matched the f/stop.

At this point one of the photographers in the class asked how I would light a subject to show up someone with darker skin tones in a similar situation. There was hardly any difference (Photo 5).

Photo 6.

The only difference, actually, was to position him so that the direct sunshine would be back and sidelighting his face. It was the same as if I'd had him in the studio and created a kicker light coming from the side and behind to create highlights on the side of his face.

In this situation it was simple. The direct sunshine was coming from the other direction. I just turned to the left, posed him in a relaxed manner with his hand on the pedestal of the column and added the same strong flash to bring the light on the front of him up to the brilliance of the background.

A Polaroid test print showed that I had "nailed it," so I switched over to regular film and took this portrait of him. I rated the Polaroid and the ISO 160 film at 125. Both films seem to work great at that setting.

Finally, before leaving the grounds of the museum, I posed Danielle and JJ with the class behind them. I positioned my two co-instructors for that morning, Al and Estal, at the upper position on the staircase (Photo 6).

Photo 7.

My 40mm lens was perfect for positioning the bride and groom less than 10' from the camera. The class participants were asked to scatter themselves on the steps and in the garden behind them. The bright sunshine lit the entire scene, even creating that important kicker light on the black man's face, below left. A strong flash close to the camera, balanced to the bright daylight behind them, brightened the shadowed side of their faces.

The posing of the bride and groom seated on the steps was to allow them to be close to the camera without blocking all the people behind them. I liked the way her gown flowed down the staircase to create a nice base for the entire composition.

A high viewpoint seems to work very well when seating the bride on the ground with her gown spread around her. Otherwise, had the camera been close to the level of the ground, you wouldn't have been able to get the effect of the gown's placement.

After leaving Ringling Museum we went back to the Greek Orthodox church where I regularly hold my Florida classes.

Again, working under the cover of a porch, I posed Danielle and JJ together in casual clothes (Photo 7). I used a long telephoto lens on my Hasselblad to show as little background behind them as possible. I actually worked in the corner of the covered area with soft light coming in from their left and from behind me.

Photo 8.

The wall behind them was actually L-shaped. I positioned them slightly forward from the edge of the side wall, allowing light to split light their faces. Then, I added my Westcott Monte Illuminator/ Reflector on the same side from which the stronger outside light was coming from. I pointed the silver side almost all the way out to the outside, so that it could pick up light and reflect it back onto their faces. When the wind blew her hair across her face I took the picture, loving the naturalness of the outdoor wind-blown effect.

From there I took Danielle out into the bright sunshine. I backlit her completely with the almost directly overhead sun (Photo 8). Ordinarily in a situation like this I would use a flash to open up the shaded side of her face, but she was able to keep her eyes open with my using the reflector. So, that's all that was used for this portrait. A single reflector balanced the light on her face to the bright, direct sunshine on the top of her head. My 350mm lens confined the background to just the plain wall, which was about 10-15' behind her.

Photo 9.

Afterward, I photographed Danielle seated in another of my favorite areas for creating portraits--under a long, covered area in the front of the church (Photo 9). I brought her to where there was light coming just from her left. Again, I exposed for the ambient light with the bare bulb two f/stops under.

Then, for some unknown reason I got the idea of building up the light on her a little more, while she was still seated in the exact same spot. I didn't do that by increasing the flash. Instead, I had someone hold my silver Monte Illuminator/Reflector just outside the arches. It picked up some bright sunshine and threw it directly onto her face, which brought the light on her up much closer to the value of the light in the background (Photo 10).

Photo 10.

The lighting with the extra sunlight coming in from the reflector looked so beautiful that I decided to go just with the existing light and not use a flash with it. When I added that extra light onto her from the reflector, it brought her up closer to the brightness of the background. The new exposure made the background much darker. We all flipped out at the difference the extra light on her made in the final image.