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Outdoor Lighting Q&A

Lesson 13 from: Editorial Portrait Photography for High School Seniors

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

13. Outdoor Lighting Q&A


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


How to Make Senior Photos Stand Out


What is Lighting in Layers?


Build a Lighting Foundation


Layer One: Main Light


Layer Two: Fill Light


Layer Three: Accent Light


Layer Four: Additional Light


Lesson Info

Outdoor Lighting Q&A

My question this time is about white balance. So like that last shot on the soccer field, was that tungsten or do you do all that in post? No, so that's a great question. With white balance one of the things, one of the nice things about working with strobes is generally these strobes are-- I shoot in Kelvin for white balance to start. And these strobes are all calibrated in at about 5500 Kelvin and since even the shot on the soccer field, yeah, the ambient light was cooler. My strobes are still the main light within the shot, and at 5500 Kelvin I'm still going in with that white balance in mind because I want her skin tones to look correct, and the output of the light is 5500 Kelvin. That's my main light, so that's what I'm setting my white balance to. There are times where you have mixed light situations. I know one in particular I thought of from a corporate shoot of a bunch of guys in a bank lobby, and I didn't have enough lights to light the whole lobby so we were dealing with r...

eally warm light in the background. I was lighting them at 5500 Kelvin, but the light hitting the rest of the room was really warm, so there's those situations where you can either gel the lights to match the ambient light or sometimes, even in Photoshop on the back end, this is not ideal but sometimes I'll take that shot and run it through raw twice. One time I'll run it for the background and I'll make the background a lot cooler, and the next time I'll run it so that the subject looks correct at the-- Does that make sense? Like a composite? Yeah, exactly, and since it's the exact same frame twice it is like a composite in that I'm just laying that one over the other and masking in the background to match so it looks real and not super orange. So again, that's not ideal. I don't want to have to do all that work, but sometimes you can't avoid it. That's great, thank you. We had some questions about using outdoor-- or using gels in your outdoor shots as well. And so when do you decide to-- I'm not huge on using gels outdoors. A lot of the times I'll do it purposely for an effect, not so much because I want to control white balance and things like that. Generally, and almost every time I shoot with the lights as they are at 5500 Kelvin, I'm not so worried about matching warmth and all that stuff in camera. So I really don't use, unless I'm going for a real specific effect that's obvious, I'm not using gels outdoors much. I just don't do it. And what about filters on your lenses? This had come in from Raw Shoot Photography. Yeah. I know, a great friend of mine, Dan McClanahan, he's a photographer out of Ames, Iowa. He uses outdoor strobes a lot, and he'll use neutral density filters so that way he doesn't have to stop up so far or use high speed sync and things like that. I don't use that a whole lot either, but that's another way, using neutral density filters, to bring your background down so that way you don't have to mess with the power of your strobes as much. That can really help with that. You actually just killed my question. I was gonna ask about variable ND filters, if you utilize those in your-- Yeah, yeah, so exactly. I mean, that's definitely a way to get around that and bring the ambient light down so when you're using your strobes you don't have to mix as much. What about tripods? Do you use a tripod? I do not use a tripod. I don't even know where my tripod is. But it's not a bad idea, especially if you're in a situation where there is low light or you do have to make a composite. I know there are times where I wish that I was on a tripod, but generally speaking, with the settings I'm using and with using the strobes, I don't remember the last time I used a tripod, no. Sally Watson, and this is just more as an FYI, but is wondering what cameras do you shoot with? Oh, yeah, that's a good question. We haven't even talked about that yet. Yeah, we haven't talked about that yet. Yeah, 'cause I guess I talk about it in the pre-shoot, but just to answer that question right now, I use a Nikon D810. That's the camera of choice. That's what I have in my bag, and then as far as lenses, I'm not a guy who has a ton of gear. In fact, I've had, just so people don't ask me this question later, I have a lot of people who do ask me, especially family friends, "You're a photographer, what camera should I get?" And I know we've had this conversation. I have no idea what cameras are even out there right now. I just know that when it comes time to buy a camera, I look at the one I want, and I'm not much of a gear guy outside of lighting. So I have a Nikon D810. I use a 17 to 35 millimeter lens, a 50, a 70 to 200, and that's it. Those are the only things in my bag, so it's pretty simple. It's just a little backpack with three lenses and that's all I use. I'm not much of a gear guy. I just kinda know that those are the three things that I use to get me the looks I want and give me a wide range as far as focal lengths. And I like the D810 because it has great dynamic range and the file size gives me all the detail I want. So, when shooting outdoors with umbrellas, do you use reflective or shoot through? And I don't know if you use umbrellas. I do. But if one were. Yeah, that's a great question because I use umbrellas and I'll use those soft lighters, and I use them as reflective. I don't generally use shoot through. I like the quality more of the reflective. You know, with the soft lighter, if I want to soften it up they make a diffusion sock. I can put it on there to soften, so you actually shoot as a reflective and then the light comes back through a diffusion panel, so it's really soft. The interior of those reflectors also has a little bit of a sheen to it, so as a reflective umbrella, you get a nice quality of light that's not too specular but not too soft, so when I'm trying to match ambient light outside it works really well, but yeah. I don't use reflectors as shoot through ever, 'cause I also don't want the hotspot of the light coming right through the middle of that umbrella. Okay, great, so this question had come in from Wayne when you had the image up of the car, and the question was could you use a silk over the car and model to soften that direct sunlight? You definitely could use a silk. With the situation we had, we had limited time, so basically what he's saying is why don't we just take a silk, block the sun, and diffuse that to bring down that ambient light? And I could have done that. The only problem is we were running out of time, plus it was a really windy day, so we weren't necessarily prepared for putting an eight-foot parachute into the air with two guys and over a $200,000 car. So while that is something you could definitely do, and I've done that in the past, used silks to block ambient light, for that situation we just chose not to do it and overpower the sun a little bit with our strobe. Question is I know you're gonna talk a little bit about how you interact with the clients, with the seniors and how you get into creating things and scenarios that they want, but do you, this question from DC Photo Guy, how do you find the sites for your shoots in general? Do you have sort of a library in your head of sites that you know will work or do you go out and scout? Yeah, as far as finding sites, if it's a senior shoot, one of the things we'll do at a consultation is I ask them if there's any locations they want, whether it's something that means something to them. Again, like the soccer player it was the soccer field from her high school. Some people want to do something, I know I spoke earlier of shooting photos of someone in their living room playing the piano. So a lot of times they will have suggestions or just a general idea of I want to be someplace near water or I want to be in an open field. In that case I figure out, okay, her session is at night or in the morning. Where's the sun gonna be? So which field am I gonna use for that time of day, or even that time of year, you know. Certain ones have flowers and all the things. So I have a library of locations in my head, you know, that have general keywords of field, 7 p.m., September, things like that where I know where to go. The other thing with locations is I want everybody's photos to be unique, all my clients, especially amongst their friends, so if I have three girls from one high school and I know they know each other because they told me so, I don't want to take, unless they really want, I don't want to take them to the same location. Maybe they both want something that's a wide-open grass field. Well, I don't want to go to the same wide-open grass field for both of them because I want them to have the variety. Plus for me it keeps me doing something fresh and not being repetitive because I don't want to fall into that rut either. As far as doing personal shoots, that's where all the locations I see when I'm out driving around or you know, even teaching other workshops or being at other events, those are fun too because they throw you out of your comfort zone and you get to, you know-- This is in the desert in Nevada. It wasn't something I would normally find in the middle of Omaha, so location just varies based on the subject matter and the situation, but I do keep a whole library of locations in my head for seniors. Awesome. It sounds like Lightroom with all your keywords going on in your head. Yeah, got keywords and presets, yeah. Okay, this question is from Scott, and is wondering if you can talk a little bit about the style that you do of photographs where maybe the subject matter isn't very big an image like the here image we're looking at now, and whether that's something that parents are willing, sort of, to pay for or are-- Is something that is appealing to them as a senior portrait. Have you had to educate your clients or how does that work? So I think two things to say about that. One is I do shoot the full range of, you know, the work where the senior or subject, whoever it is, is taking up the majority of the frame, where it's more of that portrait feel. But I love, as I've said many times, I love the compositional elements of when people are small and in the frame, and there's all the lines and everything. So I shoot both on a shoot, but a lot of times with social media and what's framed up in my studio and that stuff, is the stuff I like because I feel that the more times you show the stuff that you really like, that you'll bring in clients who saw that, and that's what they want, you know? Because they might not even know you do the regular stuff, but you know, they'll reference those images and say, "Oh, I really like the shoot you did of the girl kicking the soccer ball." And I'm thinking all right, great. So that means they're okay with that, and they're coming to me for my style. So I always show the stuff I want to shoot, and a lot of times I will shoot the more safe stuff, the more traditional stuff as far as crops and compositions, because I want them to have that variety. And on that same note, a lot of times because this is a senior business, I'm thinking on the back end what's gonna produce the most sellable images, or if I'm gonna fill an album or a collage or something like that. I want that variety too, of closeups to faraway, so that way there's more opportunity for them to love images and need to purchase them or put them in an album, which is, you know, puts a good number on the sales sheet. Great answer. Thank you, thank you. Let's see, question is do you use assistants outdoors to hold the reflector, the umbrella? How do you deal with wind? Do you assess the weather before you go out? Yeah, that's a great question. On senior shoots I don't generally use an assistant. Once in awhile I will. I've had interns in the past. I try and not use the assistants, but at the same time, yeah, some days you have to. I also keep in the trunk of my car a couple sandbags just in case you know, even just for safety, especially if you're using something like an umbrella. Even if you don't think there's a lot of wind, when you put an umbrella nine feet in the air, it tends to catch a little more wind than you expect, so I like to bring a couple sandbags. Again, they're 20 pounds apiece, so I'm not looking to haul them back and forth from the studio, but I'll throw them in the trunk of the car just to have them. I've also found in the past that parents or makeup artists or friends can be helpful, but I don't necessarily trust them because just a quick story, I had a mom on a shoot who we had a light set up in an alleyway to do, you know, outdoor lighting. I said, "All right, all I need you to do is just put an arm on this," and what do you know, five minutes later her phone rings and she's like, "Oh, it's my other daughter," who was gonna meet us. She goes to answer her phone, light goes over, and we shatter a light onto the concrete, you know? And like, she didn't know that was like a $500 thing but I did, and it kinda ruined the mojo for the rest of the shoot. But also it let me know like okay, mom is not a photo assistant. I shouldn't have her do this. So sandbags and assistants are good if you can, if you can figure it out.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Lighting Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lighting Terms Guide

Ratings and Reviews

pete hopkins

awesome teacher and awesome technique. after soooo many webinars, it's really great to see someone break it down to the bare bones of lighting with exceptional quality results. i can listen to Dan all day. no pretense, no over the top emotional pleas, no drama! did i say awesome!!!! Plus, I'm a huge fan of the B! and B2 systems. Freedom is key. Now I can shoot anywhere, anytime. Thanks Dan.


This is by far the best class on senior photography I have found on creativelive. Dan explains the technical aspects in an easy to understand format. He does a great job going through studio shots, outdoor shots, editing and marketing. He's given me some great ideas and inspired me to be more creative. I am going to rewatch the lighting set up for the "hero shot". It's super cool!

Tristanne Endrina

Dan was great. His class was very comprehensive but easy to follow. The slides he used weren't flashy. Instead, they were simple and he went at a good pace. I left feeling like I could really pull off the lighting techniques he taught. I'm excited to put what I learned into my photography. :) Thanks, Dan.

Student Work