Enhancing Natural Light for Outdoor Bridal Portraits

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Ever wonder how the pros capture that lighting that seems too good to be true? Photographs where there are no harsh shadows on the background and the scene looks naturally lit are no accident.

By blending artificial and natural light together, you can control the mood and look of your portraits and ensure pro-level results every time.

In addition to demonstrating how to achieve classic outdoor bridal portraits using only one light, this lesson also provides tips on posing, cropping, and lens choices.

Topics Covered:

  • Choosing the Right Outdoor Location
  • Choosing the Proper Lens
  • Creating a Series of Full-length and 3/4 Portraits
  • Creating Lighting for an Outdoor Bridal Close-up

Choosing the Proper Location

For outdoor bridal portraits, it’s important to find a location with a good background that is out of the wind and direct sunlight. Since we used the StarFlash 150 to primarily light the subject and the scene, the quality of the natural light was not as critical, as it would only serve as a general fill light.

For this lesson, we used the new Photoflex® 150 StarFlash® monolight strobe. The unit is lightweight and compact, yet it provides enough power to light full-length subjects indoors and outdoors.

The location we chose had a red barn color siding and flat ground. Since we were using an AC-powered flash, we also needed access to a power outlet.

Before Beginning

For this outdoor bridal portrait series, we are using one StarFlash 150 with a medium LiteDome® on a stand. It will be very simple lighting with no fill light or fill reflector.

To make your setup more convenient and versatile, we have now included The Photoflex® FlashFire&trade: Wireless Trigger & Receiver. Using this equipment allows you to move more freely with your camera instead of limiting yourself to within a few feet of your lights.

Even adding just one trigger and one receiver you can set your secondary lights to slave so that they fire through the infrared sensor. Either way you choose to use the FlashFire, you cannot ignore its ability to provide your “tool bag” with a great amount flexibility.

Lighting Equipment

Once we decided on a specific area to shoot the portrait, we mounted the StarFlash® 150 strobe to a LiteStand and attached a Medium LiteDome® SoftBox to it. The idea was to create very simple lighting with no additional fill lights or fill reflectors. Here’s what the set-up looked like.

Once our bride was ready, we had her stand against the red wall. Note the distance the StarFlash® 150 was placed from the bride. Since we planned to shoot full-length and 3/4 poses, it was important to position the SoftBox up relatively high to effectively drop the shadow below her head.

Here’s a more direct side view of our lighting set-up.

Measuring Light Levels

We used a handheld light meter set to the incident mode to measure the light generated from the StarFlash 150. This is the most accurate method of light measurement for portraits. Notice in the photo below how the light meter is positioned directly toward the camera to record light illuminating the bride’s face.

The natural light reading at ISO 100 was f/4 at 1/125 second. The StarFlash® 150 with the medium LiteDome® was set to produce f/8 at 100 ISO and same shutter speed. Again, the natural light was being used to give a little fill light to the scene, but the StarFlash 150 was intended to provide the main light for the subject and scene.

The 3/4 Pose

The first series was to have the bride in a 3/4 pose. The 3/4 pose usually cuts off around the knees. The StarFlash® 150 was placed off to the left of the camera to create three-dimensional lighting across the bride’s face and body.

Notice how the shadow side of the bride’s face is nearest to the camera. The bride has her weight on her back foot and the bouquet is placed at belly button height. Generally speaking, a bride’s arms should not be at a 90-degree angle at the elbow.

For portrait work like this, it’s usually best to shoot with a telephoto lens. Here, we used 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Being able to zoom the lens to create different perspectives and crops on the subject makes a lens like this very useful for portraiture. The use of a tripod also helps with stability and viewing of the subject.

From this basic camera position and lighting set-up, it’s possible to shoot a series of natural-looking poses.

Once the basic portrait series was complete, we had the model try some more contemporary poses. The only things different with the following images were slight camera repositioning and different types of poses.

Full Length Outdoor Bridal Portrait

Using a zoom lens makes it is possible to change from a 3/4 portrait to a full-length portrait without having to move the camera. The images below show a full-length shot without moving the lighting, subject or camera position.

The Outdoor Bridal Close-up

In order to produce a nice bridal close-up, we changed the set-up by moving the light closer to the subject.

As you move a light source further from your subject, the quality of light becomes a little harder, or higher in contrast. Conversely, bringing a diffused light source like the medium LiteDome® in about 3-4 feet from the subject produces a beautifully soft lighting quality for most portraits.

Here you can see how much closer we positioned the light to the subject. Also notice how much tighter we’ve come in with the camera.

Since we moved the StarFlash® 150 closer to the subject, it was necessary to remeasure the light from the flash. After taking a light reading, we powered the unit down until it was set to deliver an f-stop equal to f/8.

The resulting close up bridal portrait shows the bride in a 2/3 pose. Since the bride had beautiful, strong cheekbones, we used a modified butterfly lighting. Notice how the catch-lights in the bride’s eyes are almost at high noon if compared to the face of a clock. This type of lighting puts a small shadow under the nose and a deeper shadow under the chin.

Note that this would not be appropriate lighting for a bride with a heavier/fuller face. Finally, note the bouquet was brought up near the bride’s chin to add an accent to the pose.

With just a few tips and tricks you can start creating fabulous wedding portraits with very little effort. Always remember to experiment with your lighting and poses, and above all, have fun in the process!

Basic Lighting,

Outdoor Portraits,


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