Photography Lighting is supported by readers. When you buy with our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more

This post was most recently updated on January 8th, 2023

The perfect lighting for outdoor photography is not as hard to achieve as you might expect. Getting the best lighting depends on when, where and what you are taking a photograph of.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many differing styles of photography and each of these requires a different type of equipment in order to obtain the best lighting.

When you are shooting in an indoor location, you will be able to manipulate the light far easier but controlling the specificity of certain elements is far harder when you are outside. In spite of this, the rewards for outdoor photography far outweigh the frustrations involved in the process of getting the perfect picture.

Wonderful skyscapes and picturesque scenes cannot be filmed inside a small studio! Therefore, if you are an outdoor photographer, there are a few tips that you can implement to ensure that your surroundings are heightened to their full photographic potential.

Landscape Photography

Natural light can be utilized beautifully in landscape photography. Once you have an understanding of how sunlight affects your shots, you will be able to easily manipulate the lighting in order to achieve the best results.

The ‘golden hour’ of sunlight is usually considered the most advantageous time of day to take your photographs and this refers to the hour that immediately follows sunrise or approximately an hour before sunset.

This is because the sunlight during the middle of the day will be far brighter and more direct which may cause intense shadows. In comparison, during the ‘golden hour’ the light becomes slightly diluted by the surrounding atmosphere which culminates in a far softer light that tis ideal for taking the best snaps.

You’re far more likely to be able to observe a mesh of colors as the sun rises or sets which results in distinctly colorful imagery. Of course, waiting for the ‘golden hour’ is not an essentiality, especially if a harsher form of sunlight would be better suited to your creative vision.

Harsh shadows can also produce incredible results or you can use a filter in order to reduce the intensity. Sun beams bursting through the trees add a wonderfully ethereal ambience and a lens filter will further enhance these.

A neutral density filter is able to even out the amount of sunlight that enters into the lens of your camera, ensuring that any excess pressure is relieved and therefore doesn’t cause too much of an issue whilst editing.

If it is a particularly rainy day or the weather is overcast then the lighting will have a slightly different impact on your photographs.

The lighting may become softer and have blue tones as opposed to red so if you are planning to use natural light for your outdoor photography then you will need to ensure that you are planning ahead of time and have checked the weather forecast in the days preceding your shoot.

If you are looking to achieve warmer, brighter photographs then shooting on a rainy day is not the best idea but ultimately it all comes down to your creative preferences.

Whilst daylight can be incredibly hard to predict, planning ahead will ensure that you are able to control your creative vision and enhance the landscape as much as possible.

Portrait Photography

Portrait Photography


The ‘golden hour’ is also a good time to shoot portrait style photographs. However, you will still need to ensure that you are thoroughly prepared.

Timing is of utmost importance when it comes to using natural light, as mentioned, and you will also need to be aware that light can change drastically within the space of a few minutes.

It will therefore be incredibly difficult to capture a multitude of photographs that have a consistency to them if the light is continually fluctuating.

If you are shooting portrait photographs in the middle of the day, then you should definitely be mindful about the amount of light that is penetrating your lens as this may create harsh shadows that are detrimental to the skin tone of your subject.

It is highly recommended that you position the person that you are photographing to a shady area if the light is harsh or in a position where the light is not as intense on their face.

You may also encounter the issue of an overexposed background. You can use a technique called fill flash in order to correct the lighting in this instance but it will require you to use your camera flash.

Whilst the camera flash may work effectively, you may want to invest in a more powerful external flash for greater effects. Firstly, you should adjust the ISO and aperture so you are able to adjust the background of your shot to the right level of exposure.

This will temporarily make your subject darker but that’s not an issue as your subject will immediately be illuminated once the flash goes off without having any negative impact on the background setting. The end result will be an evenly dispersed and correctly exposed photograph.

To obtain the best photograph, you will also need to adjust the settings on your flash or adjust the distance between yourself and your subject. Of course, your subject’s face should be illuminated but it shouldn’t be so bright that your use of a flash becomes intensely obvious.

A light meter is a further way to calculate the correct exposure setting and is an easy way to ensure that you are achieving optimal exposure. Whist the vast majority of cameras will have this function built-in, they’re not the most reliable.

However, they are able to measure the amount of light that is reflecting off of your subject which is helpful. You can also purchase an external incident light meter which will calculate how much light is on your subject’s face.

You will need to hold the meter near their face and face it towards the source of light. This will also tell you the exact settings that need to be used in order to achieve optimal exposure and you can also use it in conjunction with an internal flash.

To conclude, whilst there are many other forms of lighting, the best lighting for outdoor photography will always be natural light. However, the weather, time of day and camera settings are all critical in ensuring that your creative vision is brought to life effectively.

You may need to invest in some external outdoor photography equipment such as a light meter, reflector or externalised flash in order to assist you in maximizing your creative potential.

Above all, the best way to become an expert at outdoor photography is by experimenting as much as possible and paying attention to the way that different strands of lighting can affect your photographs.

This is a fun and thoroughly enjoyable experience and you will soon learn how to optimize daylight to achieve your creative vision with ease.