Lighting outdoor portraits at noon hour for better control

Asia was photographed with a studio strobe WL800 inside a Photoflex Octodome gelled with 1/4 CTO. Lens was fitted with a fader filter which I could darken by turning to dial in a shutter speed and aperture combination to give me a handholdable shutter speed and wide aperture to blur out the palm trees in the background.
Asia was photographed with a studio strobe WL800 inside a Photoflex Octodome gelled with 1/4 CTO. Lens was fitted with a fader filter which I could darken by turning to dial in a shutter speed and aperture combination to give me a handholdable shutter speed and wide aperture to blur out the palm trees in the background.ISO 100 1/350sec @ F2.8 80-200 zoom set at 140mm

I am a fan of Westerns.

But I always wonder why their directors choose to film gunfights at high noon.

I suppose it makes sense  from the gunfighter’s perspective.

The entire scene is lit by the sun.

As long as a gunslinger doesn’t have eyes that are too light-sensitive and those eyes  are shielded from the glaring sun overhead, it totally makes sense.

But for portrait photographers, high noon is the devil.

Quality not quantity

I posed Asia again in the shade of trees . The gelled strobes were to fake a late evening look.
I posed Asia again in the shade of trees . The gelled strobes were to fake a late evening look.ISO 100 1/125sec @f2.8 100 mm lens.

For portrait photographers, when the sun is directly overhead, it means everything outdoors that you see is lit.

That means there are potentially a lot of distractions  behind your subject.

Not only are the distractions lit, they are actually too well lit.

Meaning even if you use your highest shutter speed, lowest ISO and widest aperture: 1/8000 sec ISO 100  f1.4, you won’t be very successful in isolating or separating your  subject from the background.

If your goal is to emphasize your subject, and it should be since this is a portrait, then you need to take control of the lighting.

Your other problem is how your subject will look with the angle of the sun striking them from directly overhead at that time of the day.

Eyes will be in deep shadow especially if your subject has deep set eyes.

It’s also likely  they will be squinting.

In case you haven’t, mouse over the large vertical picture above to get an idea of what the scene looked like in reality. 

I used my zoom with the fader filter attached dialed in the amount of density I wanted so I could shoot wide open at f2.9. My lens was set to 200mm ISO 100 1/125sec F2.8

Portraits at High Noon

My Canon 5DMarkII and the 50mm f1.4 lens fitted with step-up rings so I can attach the 77mm fader filter. That diameter,77mm, happens to be  biggest diameter of all my lenses. I intentionally bought the largest so it can be used when I shoot with other lenses of varying diameters.
My Canon 5DMarkII and the 50mm f1.4 lens fitted with step-up rings so I can attach the 77mm fader filter. That diameter,77mm, happens to be biggest diameter of all my lenses. I intentionally bought the largest so it can be used when I shoot with other lenses of varying diameters.

So what if that’s the designated time for the portrait session and you can’t change it?

What if  that’s the only time your subject or client is available?

(The gear I used is in parenthesis) You will need the following:

  •  a powerful flash (330Ws WL800 flash powered by Vagabond MiniBattery)
  • a set of neutral density filters for your lens of choice (Fader filter)
  • an area with shade if it’s outdoors (my local park where there are lots of trees)
  • 1/4 Color Temperature Orange Gel
  • Cybersync transmitter and receiver
Asia posed on a wooden bench by the lake. The exposure for available light would have been ISO 100 1/125 f2/8. Because I used the fader filter, I was able to shoot at f1.4 to blur the background. My flash positioned just out of the camera frame on the right.
Asia posed on a wooden bench by the lake. The exposure for available light would have been ISO 100 1/125 f2/8. Because I used the fader filter, I was able to shoot at 1/30sec at f1.4  with a 50mm lens to blur the background. See how my flash was positioned  in the next picture. (just out of the camera frame on the right.)
Here's what the scene looks like. Exposure in this picture shows more available light and very little flash because of the low shutter speed. As I increase the shutter speed, letting in less available light, the scene transform in to late evening because of the gelled flash.
Here’s what the scene looks like. Exposure in this picture shows more available light and very little flash because of the low shutter speed. As I increase the shutter speed, letting in less available light, the scene transform in to late evening because of the gelled flash.Click on the picture above to see a bigger picture. WL 800 powered by Paul C Buff’s mini battery and triggered by Cybersync  radio slaves.

I headed to a local park where there is a lot of shade with Asia, my model.

This bit is critical: if you hope to make a decent portrait at this time of the day, you need shade.

The more shade the better simply because even with the most powerful studio strobe, you won’t be able to overpower the noon sun unless it’s a cloudy day.


The other reason to find the shade is to minimize squinting by your subject.

Color correcting gels especially Color Temperature Orange is very important to keep around your flashes.

If you don’t use this CTO gel over your flash  and you shoot in the evening or early morning with your flash, you will run into mismatched color temperatures and your post production can quickly become a nightmare even if you shoot camera raw.

In this case, I used the CTO gels to make it appear as if these were taken late in the evening or early in the morning instead of closer to noon.

 

 

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