Tools For Lighting Outdoor Portraits

When working with natural light, the singular light source of the sun is difficult to control. It’s a large, directional light source, which means it produces a lot of "hard" light that comes from only one direction. This results in high-contrast images with a lot of shadows. There’s nothing wrong with this very dramatic look, but by altering and harnessing that natural light, you can use it for any number of lighting styles. Whether you want to add a bright commercial pop to your images or subtly influence the nature of the light, there are a variety of tools available to help you get the look you want.

When working under natural light, photographers often will position their subjects in open shade to even out the shadows while reducing the overall contrast (not to mention that models will also have an easier time keeping their eyes from watering). Diffusion panels are another way to gain this advantage. Diffusion spreads light evenly through a semitranslucent material, generally white, for a softer, more natural feel to the light. Softboxes, for instance, use diffusion panels to reduce and soften the directional light coming from the bare bulb. Diffusion also is available as silks or domes for use with flashes or studio lights, and can be used in combination with other light-modification tools for changing the quality of the light.

Photoflex 5-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector

Reflector panels and bounce tools guide and focus the light by reflecting it. Most often available in gold, silver, white or combinations of the three, these materials will affect the nature of the reflected light, as well. With gold, for example, you gain an afternoon glow that highlights skin tones with warm, pleasing tones. Silver, on the other hand, is a highly specular reflective material, much like a mirror, which is great for adding a lot of extra light to your subject, though it also can add contrast. A silver-and-gold combination reflector panel will give you the best of both worlds. Additionally, reflectors are highly portable and almost always bendable, which makes them ideal for shaping the light spread.

Sometimes taking light away from a scene can be as important as adding it. Flags remove unwanted light by blocking light rays directly or by absorbing it. Flags are made of dark materials, which reduce light because very little light is reflected, one of the reasons why a black car or dark clothes will get so hot in the summer. Flags also can be used to reduce lens flare when used to shade the camera lens from the sun, and they can be used to control light spill whether working with natural light or studio lighting.

Lastolite TriGrip Difflectors


Available as the 18" Mini TriGrip Difflector or the 33" TriGrip Difflector, Lastolite’s soft silver and soft gold TriGrip Difflectors employ a unique material that allows light transmission from only one side. The panel can be used for bouncing light from the reflective side or diffusing it via the opposite side. The TriGrip Difflector can be held with one hand. Lastolite also produces a number of basic 18", 33" and 48" TriGrip reflector solutions, as well as collapsible models in a range of sizes. List Price: $63 (18" Mini TriGrip Difflector); $78 (33" TriGrip Difflector); $112 (48" TriGrip Difflector, large).

California Sunbounce Sun-Mover

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