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The Best Lighting Tips for Outdoor Photography

When it comes to outdoor photography, there are a lot of things you can control. You can select the perfect outfits, choose breathtaking locations, and pack your camera bag full of your best camera gear.

But one thing is certain: Mother Nature acts in unpredictable ways and can provide less than ideal lighting situations. Knowing the best lighting options, and what to do if you have don’t have access to them, will help you take beautiful pictures regardless of what Mother Nature throws your way!

Ideal Outdoor Lighting

If you would have asked me, when I first took my camera out of the box, what I thought the best lighting would be, I would have promptly and confidently told you “bright sunlight”.

Boy, was I wrong.

Direct sunlight causes squinted expressions and harsh shadows. Additionally, in bright sun, it is almost impossible to get that beautiful, soft background blur in your pictures. The reason for this is a background blur requires your camera opening to be “large” so it lets in a lot of light. In the sun, this would cause an overexposed, or really light, photo. To learn more about your camera settings, check out this SUPER beginner-level description of camera settings or these easy to follow articles and videos:

By following these simple tips, you will have beautiful outdoor pictures- no matter what the scenario is.

1) Shade is Your Best Friend

Shade creates the perfect environment for pictures and should be your best friend. It provides a consistent and soft light source, which will allow for capturing intricate details and saturated colors.

If possible, you should try to find “open shade”. Open shade is when your subject is standing in a shaded area facing out towards the sun.

Open Shade

Open shade will give you the soft lighting you crave, but will also brighten up your subject in beautiful ways! In my opinion, there is no better lighting option for photography.

2) Don’t be afraid of overcast or low light

You obviously don’t have control over the clouds, but an overcast day can produce beautiful pictures, and a lot of flexibility because there is shade everywhere!

Similarly, taking pictures at times of the day when the sun is low can have stunning results.

Overcast or Low Light

Many people love the golden hour, when the sun has just rose or is about to set within an hour. It creates a bright, but soft glow of light with minimal shadows.

I personally love to take pictures immediately after the sun has set for a dramatic effect.

3) What to do when direct sun is the only option

Sometimes finding shade or moving your subject is simply not an option. You may be in an open area in the middle of the day, or you may be photographing a subject that you do not want to move.

You can still take beautiful pictures in full sunlight with these tips:

  1. Have the subject look away from the sun, so that it not shining in their eyes
  2. Check your camera settings– you will most likely want a high aperture (f stop around 16), and/or a quick shutter speed
  3. Select the metering mode called ‘spot metering’, and focus on your subject

In spot metering, you are choosing the exact point on the frame where you want your camera to evaluate the lighting. This will ensure that your camera adjust to the lighting of your subject and not the bright sun behind them.

Here is an example of a picture in full sunlight:


Taking gorgeous outdoor pictures can be done in any lighting situation. Print this reminder to guide you with your outdoor photography lighting.

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