Quick and Basic Outdoor Lighting Tips in The Backyard

There may be a dozen ways to skin the proverbial outdoor lighting cat (sorry for that, felines), but it never hurts to review some of the most common basics. Some of my favorite approaches outdoors start with pure natural light with some simple modifications, leaving the strobes or speedlites at the ready only when they are absolutely needed or desired. After all, natty light should look natural, no?

A cursory review of using a reflector to fill shadows a little bit on your subject when el sol is looming from behind, and the use of a scrim to tone down a back lit / rim sunlight setup make appearances in this very-internet-friendly four and a half minute clip. 

Basic details to consider outdoors with natural light:

  • Time of day, the most obvious consideration, can radically affect your results. Golden hour is nice, but you can control midday with the right efforts (as shown in the video).
  • Type of modifiers can change your results, too. Especially scrims. If you use a 2 stop scrim one day and a 1/4 stop silk another day, you will have very different location and composition considerations to contend with. 
  • Expose for your subject, even if it means overexposing your sky or background, unless it's mission critical that everything is evenly exposed (by your own standards or client demands). A strobe is often necessary to achieve this, but some raw trickery can also help you fake it in post if the levels aren't too wildly different.
  • Make your decision on depth of field and type of light diffusion before setting anything up, then work to achieve both. If you simply can't, then adjust or move locations.

My backyard in south Texas is pretty simple, and hardly the most picturesque spot on the planet, but that's the whole challenge that I have put on myself shooting these educational videos there. The way I see it, if I can produce solid images in what is simply the most convenient (and decidedly average) location, I suspect I'd be able to do even better in amazing outdoor spots the world over, no?

And speaking of outdoor shooting, I know that can be a sore spot for those in super cold, overcast, snow covered climes. Even then, however, you can produce stunning results if you think creatively, and not just give up, when roaming the snowy countryside. As of this article, Dec. 19, 2015, it is 63F and sunny with blue skies in south Texas, so I can't exactly relate. However, I do travel a lot and find myself with outdoor challenges every single time.

And finally, with this quick video also comes some shameless promotion of my new weekly web series in YouTube, dubbed The Backyard + Nino Batista, and I invite you to Subscribe so you can catch every Sunday's episode about lighting, shooting, gear, modeling, fashion, glamour, automotive, landscapes, travel, opinion, rants, interviews with awesome photographers, and tons more.

Silver reflector on partly cloudy day. Model: Staci Butcher. EXIF: ƒ2, ISO100, 1/250th, 5500K, 55mm

2 stop scrim to camera right and behind subject. Model: Staci Butcher. EXIF: ƒ2.2, ISO100, 1/250th, 5500K, 85mm

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Henry Louey's picture

The most important lesson learnt here from this article

Switch to Sony!

I felt that if he wore a Sony hat, then I would of noticed the Sony brand.
Nino is a great photographer along with Gary Fong and Matt K; all the other Sony endorsed photographers, not so much.

John Meade's picture

Hi Nino, Thank you for posting these helpful lighting tips. May I offer you back a pronunciation tip? The word "foliage" is pronounced "FOAL-ee-ige." It would only be "FOIL-ige outside the Reynolds Wrap factory.

Hristo Kaishev's picture

yup... that's the important lesson (facepalm)

Simon Patterson's picture

Thanks for that vid - very informative and at a good pace. The tip about reflecting from higher was useful to me.

is that me or is this guy using difuser in a cloudy day?

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

Double diffusion. It'll produce softer/different highlights. Ever throw your diffusion panel next to window? Annie leibovitz will sometimes use it with her strobes as well.

David Lara's picture

What would have helped this video is show the differences between not using a silver reflector or scrim in that type of scenario vs why he chose to use it. I can see why the silver reflector but not sure of the big difference of using a scrim since it was cloudy. I'm sure there was a reason (maybe it was brighter than it seemed), but video is a bit incomplete without it, especially for that beginner audience that he's targeting

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

"but not sure of the big difference of using a scrim since it was cloudy."That is the great thing about it you're suppose to go try it out! =]]

Christian Berens's picture

Great quick video Nino!
Great series idea too!

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

You had 4min to get/keep the viewers attention while providing information! Well done =]] I'm happy that you drove into the reflector a little bit.

Austin Burke's picture

Mind me asking where you can find 1/4 stop diffusion like you mention in the article. Or a 1/2 stop would be great.

The lightstand for audio boom pole... nice touch!

Lee G's picture

December in the South!