Light is the main ingredient in a photograph. There are of course other ingredients such as time, composition, subject matter, emotion, and your unique style, but light is the thing that makes photography work. When first starting out in photography, natural light or any available light may seem like a great option, but there will come a time when you will want to have more control over your light for creative purposes.
In a perfect world, sunlight always emerges from a low angle to the horizon on a clear day, has a warm golden glow, and is at the perfect place over your shoulder regardless of what direction you may be facing. But reality usually reflects otherwise, and that is where additional lighting, diffusers, and reflectors come into the set up. Natural lighting is unpredictable and conditional. Relying only on natural light gives little control, and this can be a problem if you are shooting professionally or recreationally.
With a few extra pieces of simple equipment, freelance photographer Lee Grogan was able to control the harsh effects of bright sunlight and shadows that would otherwise ruin potentially great portraits.
Flash photography used outdoors can be theatrical or straightforward, depending on the occasion and mindset of your subject. With studio strobes the possibilities are endless and Lee showed us you can accomplish various looks with one StudioPRO 100 Watt Strobe and one light modifier. Together, they can be used to soften shadows, illuminate backlit subjects or darken the distracting background of a packed catering hall [see image below]. This StudioPRO Strobe kit is perfect because it is lightweight and includes each piece you will need to change up multiple shots. With the right tools, outdoor photography can be a nice contrast to the more formal, controlled-light look of photographs taken within a studio or other indoor location.
Controlling Natural Light
The challenge of shooting outdoors using available light is learning how to control the light in the shot with it. It’s rare to shoot under outdoor lighting conditions that don’t require varying degrees of fill, softening, or diffusion. Sometimes, merely adding light is not the best option and you will need to add a light modifier such as the umbrella brolly or a reflector which are designed to optimize the lighting parameters of whatever ambient lighting conditions you may encounter. In order to bounce sunlight back onto your subject's face, you can also use a reflector by itself if you ever find yourself outdoors with no strobe light on hand.
Most professional photographers prefer to shoot during the golden hour, right before sunset or after sunrise when the daylight is more tungsten in color and softer. This is because, if you choose to shoot during the day when the sun is high in the sky, you will get harsh shadows and high contrast scenes which would make it difficult for you and your camera to capture soft, even exposures. One problem you may encounter when shooting sunsets, or shooting against the sun is that when you expose for the background, your subject will be underexposed, and when you expose for the subject, the background is overexposed. Expose the background to your liking and then use your equipment to light your subject.
"Taking a few test shots to make sure the background is exposed to your liking," Lee says, "is the best solution."
Creating the Light
If you’re bound by a certain time and the sunlight is not working in your favor, you can always shoot in the shade. Lee suggests shooting underneath some trees, next to a building, or any other location with soft diffused light. If the available light quality changes, adjust your camera and flash settings to match the new light. As you can see, without strobe lighting, images can appear dull. With this affordable add on, you will see the professional quality of your photography go to the next level!
A clean and simplistic style has become the trademark of Lee Grogan's work. Keeping a keen eye for art shines brilliantly through his photos and editing. He is currently based in Southwest Louisiana but is always willing to travel upon request. Check out more of his work by clicking here!