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Short Lighting Outdoors

Shooting portraits outside can be a different challenge. Controlling the light is still key, just as it is in studio. Unlike the studio, however, we must deal with the sun. Even in shade, there is lots of ambient fill.

I decided to shoot this portrait of Katelyn in shade, which means I had to add direction to the light. I chose to use strobe, and placed it camera left in a short lighting position (this means that the light is coming from the side of the face turned away from camera). Though subtle, you can see the light progressing from behind her.

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

In this case, it accomplishes a few things. First of all, short lighting offers a slimming perspective to the face. Second, it follows the natural direction of light coming from the background (so it makes sense). Finally, having the light in the rear helps to separate her from the background – all using one light (in addition to our friend the sun, who is making a decidedly understated appearance).

The light is subtle, but it is not flat.

With open sun, even with my subject in the shade, I generally place them with the sun either to the side or to the rear. I filled with a gold reflector.

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |


I could be flirting with disaster here, as the sun is a hard light source yielding an abrupt transition between highlight and shadow .My fill lessens that, but I still wanted that “short light look” (though, again, flirting with danger as the sun is very much coming from almost a split lighting direction). The fact that the nose is in shadow, along with his left eye, shows that the pose is (barely) in that position. It’s a stretch, I know.

I like it as, again, there is direction to the light, and it lifts the image to a more light and cheery one, and seems to fit the casual pose.

Technical details on these images can found on flickr.

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