Portrait photography is very diverse. While some enjoy the comfort of studio portraits and the flexibility it brings, others prefer the variety of backdrops the outdoors provides. While it is totally realistic to create all kinds of weather moods in the studio, it often involves a bigger budget, whereas one can achieve similar results for free by relying on the weather forecast and proper equipment choices.
There was a time I enjoyed all-natural feel portraits and used to shoot with just natural light at a specific time of the day only. It limited me, and as time passed, I got very tired of it and accepted it was the time for new techniques and equipment. At first, I invested in a cheap reflector from eBay and two filters: neutral density and circular polarizer. This was not a big hit on my budget, but was a big change in my photography. Now, I not only could be flexible with time, but also could produce a variety of moods with this minimal gear.
Out of all my favorite for camera setups on location, this minimal gear has remained the same: preferably a wide angle lens with the two above mentioned filters and a light modifier based on the final mood I want to achieve or geared towards the specifics of the location.
The most budget friendly setup is one with filters; at this point, ND is optional, depending how much light is passing through your lens. If you want to cut some of it, ND will be your friend. A CPL is a must; this will make the bluest and deepest sky on camera you can dream of. The most important note is the sun position: it should be somewhere behind your shoulder, or from the side. A 5-in-1 reflector might a very handy thing to have, either to use it as a scrim, or a fill light if the sun is from the side.
Filters, sunlight, and a reflector.
Filters and Modifiers
My on the go and most flexible setup is a speedlite attached to a medium-size, indirect umbrella-octabox and a wide angle lens with ND and CPL filters. This always delivers the softest, yet most defined light in the pictures. The combination of the filters allow me to fire the flash at proper strength to achieve a beautiful separation with the deep sky and wide open aperture. The CPL allows me to get desired results by a simple rotation of the filter ring.
Speedlite in a regular indirect umbrella-octabox, Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM lens with CPL and ND filter, which did its job in this picture, giving me the night effect, even though it was around sunset time.
Some might argue for ND selection over HSS, but I, being a minimalist, will review HSS in the coming future, when I decide to finally buy one. I think it is totally worth it, but at the moment, if you have these babes in your bag, go out and try this setup.
When I am not in a hurry and have extra help on set, I like to bring my Elinchrom BRX 500 Monolight attached to Elinchrom Softlite 17'' Reflector, as it has more power, meaning I am more flexible under the sun, while the beauty dish delivers the most beautifying, commercial, and defined light.
Light setup of cover photo.
This is the shortest step. There is basically almost nothing to do at post production. If you need more control over the sky, simply play with the luminosity and the saturation of blue in Lightroom or Photoshop Raw converter.
I have owned CPL filters of different brands, and believe me, expensive doesn’t mean the best in this kind of photography. I get the best (meaning dramatic) results with my very old and cheapest Tiffen 58mm Circular Polarizing Filter, rather than the most expensive Zeiss 77mm Carl Zeiss T* Circular Polarizer Filter.
Bare speedlite with affordable filters on lens.
If you have similar setups or not so common ways of using filters, share in the comments!