Getting the Best Portrait in Harsh Light

To get the best portrait in outdoor lighting you will need external lights and a reflector. I’ll show you how easy it is in this post with a few photo examples. When taking outdoor portrait photography you will want not only your subject well lit, but also your background. The photos I have included are either overexposed or underexposed. This shows what will happen if you try to correct your lighting in camera without any external lights. You will either see just your background or just your subject well lit.



Overexposed Lighting

  Settings: Aperture F/5.6, Shutter Speed 1/100, ISO 100 Lens: 50mm

This first photo shows what happens when you overexpose your photo. As you can see the subject is lit properly but because of this, you lose the background. The lighting this day was very bright and sunny. So I adjusted my settings to correctly light my subject. Because of this, my background was overexposed. When shooting in outdoor light you will often times find yourself choosing one or the other. The lighting of both the subject AND the background is possible in post, but with extra work can be done in camera.

Lenses with different apetures



Underexposed Lighting

Camera Settings: Aperture F/16, Shutter Speed 1/200, ISO 100

This photo shows the subject is underexposed but shows the background clearly now. The settings didn’t change much except for the aperture settings. The amount of light is quite large and because I didn’t want as much coming in on the camera I made the aperture hole smaller. As you can see in the diagram the larger the aperture number is, the smaller the opening will be. The smaller the number, the larger the opening will be. This is vital to know when shooting in outdoor lighting.

Lenses with different apetures





This photo is great if you want the background to be bright, but remember that we need BOTH the subject AND the background to be well lit.


Just Right

Camera Settings: Aperture F/16, Shutter Speed 1/200, ISO 100






To get both the subject and the background lit correctly I used three speedlights. Two of them were directly in front of him and the other was right by my camera where I was shooting. The sun was on our left and light his face well while the right side of his face was dark. I had a friend hold up a reflector to help get light on his face on the right side. With the use of these speedlights and the reflector, we get this image. Everything is well lit and with balanced lighting. Outdoor portrait photography lighting can be done all straight out of camera.

All these photos are unedited. They were all taken with a Canon t6i with a 50mm lens. The lighting you see is all directly from manipulating my camera settings. For more creative outdoor portrait photography check out my friend Caryn Esplin’s website.