Some Tips for Portrait Lighting Outdoors

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

The best portraits seem to be ones that allow the subject to contrast with the background, making them stand out while adding drama to the photograph. This might mean a small adjustment in camera position, so take the time and pick the right spot. Ansel Adams once said that the difference between a good picture and a bad one was “knowing where to stand” and that’s just as true for portraiture as landscape photography.

One techniques is to work with the depth-of-field and deliberately set a sharp subject against an out-of-focus background. Tips: Try different apertures to change the look of an out-of-focus background and use longer lenses that have less depth-of-field than wide angles.

Another one of my favorite techniques for outdoor portraiture is backlighting because it produces bright edges around your subject to seperate them from the background. Backlighting can produce beautiful highlights on the subject’s hair while minimizing the effect of a less than exciting background, as was the case in the image at right.

How I made this shot: Regular readers of this blog know one of my influences is the movies. This portrait of Dottie was influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, which is set in 1969. This time period coincided with what I think was the most intense personal creative period of my life along with interpersonal drama. Somehow these two things are related and there’s a section about this period in my book, On Photography, that should be released real soon now.

The above portrait is a classic use of backlighting to add some interest to this shot of an aspiring model who was posing for the first time in a friend’s back yard. The camera used was a Canon EOS 5D with EF 28-135mm IS lens. Fill was provided by an 550EX speedlight that later had its hot shoe ripped off when I stumbled carrying two cameras, each with a speedlite mounted. Nobody’s perfect.


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My book Joe Farace’s Glamour Photography is full of tips, tools and techniques for glamour and boudoir photography with new copies available from Amazon for $27.43, as I write this. Used copies start at the hard-to-beat price price of $5.18 and the Kindle version is $11.99 for those who prefer a digital format.