Making Your Portraits During the Day POP

One of the trickiest parts of photographing weddings is always dealing with the unpredictable lighting you are dealt with during the day. Since you never have time to setup equipment and have to many times deal with harsh and ugly lighting you are constantly thinking quickly on your feet to get the best shots. What I am always dealing with during outdoor weddings is a beautiful scene but with such a harsh contrast that you many times sacrifice the beautiful and bold colors of the landscape to have a good exposure on your subject.

Today I am going to walk you through two quick wedding shots that were taken right after each other, one with flash and one without that shows the dramatic effect adding light can have on your work. Both of these shots are right out of the camera without any post production done to them.

The first image here was taken without and flash and many times a look that I love for weddings. Many times a nice backlight can provide a very soft and beautiful light for weddings and can give us lots of creative ways to photograph. If you want more info on using the sun as a backlight check out these past articles (Taking portraits during the sun) and (Using the sun as a backlight) The sun was behind them but at an angle to the right of the groom, so unfortunately created a little bit of a harsh highlight on the right of the groom as well as a little highlight spot on the brides dress. The exposure for this first shot was very easy, I pointed my cameras meter on the groom fairly neutral suit and zoomed in to get a meter reading of what the shadows of the scene were. Exposing for these shadows gives you the correct exposure for your subjects face which is the top priority but also completely washes out the beautiful blue sky and golden hills that are behind them. For the tech details of the 1st shot it was done with a Canon 5D with a 28-70mm L lens. Aperture was set to 2.8 and the shutter speed was 1/1600.

There is no camera that can have a dynamic range large enough to handle a normal outdoor scene and get details in the highlights and shadows, so what can we do to get that deep blue sky while still keeping the subject in a usable exposure? The answer is easy and with updates to technology pretty quick to setup… add some light.

using flash photography during the day

With the 2nd shot all that I did was add 1 Canon 580 flash to the scene. But the key here just like in the first was in exposure, since I wanted to get the rich details in the background I metered by camera on the sky and hills and slightly underexposed to get even a richer set of colors. Here I had to move up the aperture slightly to f/3.5, raised up the shutter speed to 1/6400 and changed the ISO from 400 to 200. This gave me a very rich landscape however would have made my subjects very underexposed.

In order to compensate for that all I did was add 1 Canon 580 flash that an assistant was holding to the right of the camera up as high as he could pointing down at the couple. Normally with a flash you are limited to a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second which would have meant that I would have to lower the ISO even further and also raise the aperture. I didn’t want to raise up the aperture since I love shooting between f/2.8 and f/4 so there is a nice and soft background and the focus is on the subjects.

This is where Pocketwizards MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 come in very handy! With these radio slaves you can shoot at any shutter speed and since they use TTL there is no setup. At weddings you sometimes have 1 minute max to setup a shot so I love these Pocketwizards since they are so flexible. I popped these on to the camera and flash and while the camera was exposing for the background landscape the flash filled in the shadows on my couple giving them the proper exposure and balancing everything out! It’s a great way to make your portraits during the day really POP.

flash photography during the day

Do you like to use flash with your own portrait work? Let me know why or why not in the comments below.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. Great tip and examples in your post. (But I would remove the sentence: Both of these shots are right out of the camera without any post production done to them.) If your are getting that (great looking) vignetting straight from the camera, you are having serious problems in the photos that you don’t want it) 🙂
    Keep posting. Great blog.

  2. Good catch Jose, looks like I grabbed the wrong set of images on accident. Yes that shot was edited to add the vignette and some slight contrast adjustments.

  3. Very useful tips to shoot portrait photos. And you have excellent lighting sense. Thanks for sharing.

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