Beautiful, Soft Light For Outdoor Portrait Photography

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Soft light is great for portraiture.  It minimizes wrinkles and blemishes, produces softer shadows, and can create some incredible catchlights in the eyes.

Bride was under an overhang and lit with indirect sunlight

This bride was under an overhang and lit with indirect sunlight

Without using any additional photo equipment, soft light can be found in many places.  The easiest way to get soft light is on an overcast day.  The whole sky becomes one huge softbox, producing incredibly soft light, which is great for portraits.  A partly cloudy day can also work, if you can time your portraits while the sun is behind a cloud.

The problem with natural light portrait photography is that perfect days can’t always be scheduled.  Often, the photographer with have to work with whatever light is available.  These are the times when having a few tricks up your sleeve can set you apart from the amateur photographer.

If the sun is bright, your portrait subjects will be squinting, and shadows will be harsh.  You must find soft light another way.  Unless you are in the desert, you should have some objects available that will block the direct sunlight and give you some soft, beautiful wrap-around lighting.

A tree can be a great help.  Make sure the leaves or pine needles are dense enough to block all or most of the sunlight.  If not, you will be dealing with light patches and spots that can detract from your portrait subject.  When using a tree for cover, the angle of the sun will determine where to put your model.  You want your subject placed just outside of the sunlight for maximum wrap-around lighting.  You will have skylight along with indirect sunlight as your main light source, along with some very minor fill lighting from the sun reflecting off the grass.

Another place to find soft, wrap-around light is under the shade of an overhang, canopy, porch, doorway, or other such structure.  Just as mentioned with the trees, place your subject just inside the shade, out of the direct sunlight.  If your subject is too deep into shade, and away from the sun, the light may be too dim.

Keeping your subject in open shade, just out of the direct sunlight, will provide direction of light, and will enable you to turn your subject toward or away from the light to produce a pleasing light pattern on the face.

If there is no cover at your portrait location, or if the lighting is uneven because of trees or other obstructions, then a translucent diffuser panel or disc will be a great help.  Diffusers can be purchased separately, or are included in 5-in-1 reflector kits.  A diffuser panel can easily be created with PVC pipes and white rip-stop nylon or other similar materials.  A diffuser creates soft, even lighting, similar to a studio softbox.