Simple Lighting for Outdoor Portraits

Photoflex Outdoor P Rud 11 590 443


In this lesson, Light Leader Steve Kurtz uses a simple one-light approach to create a flattering outdoor portrait of Doug and Denise. He shows us how to add artificial light to create flattering lighting in a controlled and simple manner.

My subjects, Doug and Denise, wanted an outdoor portrait in a park like setting. I decided to accent the natural ambient light with flash and soften it by shooting with a 45” white shoot-through umbrella. For this assignment I am shooting almost wide open (f5.6) so that the background will be slightly out of focus. Since I am using a strobe, I need to shoot at 1/180 of a second or slower to allow the flash to sync with the camera. In this case I am using 1/80 second with a tripod for stability.

I am using the ambient natural light to light the background and am using te strobe as a key light on my subjects. The trick is to match the two light sources so that they are the balanced. The additional light on the subjects creates more flattering skin tones and increased detail. It helps to pose your subject(s) in a slightly shadier area with the background being a little brighter. This way it’s easier to balance the key light on Doug and Denise with the natural light on the background.

In the two examples below, the image on the left was done with only the natural outdoor light and the image on the right has the strobe added. As you can see in the second photo, the added light from the strobe brightens skin tones and increases detail for a better capture overall.

As you can see in the set-up photo below, the light is not centered with the camera, but off to one side. This creates a directional soft light that sculpts the faces of your subjects. Also note that the light is not very close to the couple. This allows the light to cover their full bodies in case you want to shoot full length as well as head and shoulders.

Once the lighting is set and balanced it is easy to go through a series of portraits, including zooming to full length. Below is another example in the same location with the light moved to the opposite side for a different pose and lighting.

The beauty of the Photoflex RUD white shoot-through umbrellas is that they are inexpensive, compact and come in three versatile sizes. Any flash unit (even a shoe mount flash) will work with these umbrellas. The light they create is soft, even and easy to control.

Written and photographed by Steve Kurtz.

Newest Lessons,

Basic Lighting,

Outdoor Portraits,


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