This article is meant for photographers who want to learn how to use an external flash in outdoor shooting situation. Shooting outdoors in natural light can be a challenge depending upon your understanding of the nature of light. I know most of you are aware how amazing golden hour light can be. This warm soothing light is perfect for a number of photography genres. You can shoot wedding, engagements, casual portraits, architecture photos and much much more during this magical time of the day. Fast forward another 30 minutes or so and the potential of the blue hour isn’t that inconspicuous either.

Unfortunately, despite the magical attributes of these beautiful times of the day, the fundamental aspect of natural light makes them completely unpredictable. Therein lies the challenge that most outdoor photographers face. As an aspiring photographer you will soon face it and have learn how to work your way around the challenge known as – inclement light. But what is inclement light?

inclement light

Understanding the nature of light is fundamental to all photography

Inclement light means light that changes. During the times of the day I mentioned above it changes quite rapidly. The quality of light, by nature, isn’t the same throughout the day. It changes throughout the course of the day. Mid-day light is harsh producing striking shadows. Late afternoon light, as we discussed above, is more pleasing and amiable for shooting.

When shooting outdoors you need to keep an eye out for changing color temperature. Color temperature is something that changes with the progress of the day as well. Then again cloud cover plays an important part in the whole scheme of things.

Tip # 1 & 2 – External Flash in Outdoor Shooting- Golden Hour (Two Scenarios)

Let’s take the best case scenario to start off – working at the golden hour. Let’s assume that you are shooting engagement photos. You want to capture your couple against the setting sun. There are a couple of problems. A – In trying to expose for the faces you are blowing out the sky. B – If you plan an extended shoot, the light will change dramatically over time making it difficult for you to produce a series of similarly exposed images.That is unless you are careful enough to change the color temperature as well as the exposure.

In both the above situations the solution would be in using an external flash. Rather than speedlights I would recommend using strobes here, especially those which are battery powered. These units are more powerful, have faster recycle time and gives you better control over your photography.

using an external flash when shooting in golden light

Working during the golden hour

In the first of the two scenarios (as a matter of fact in both the scenarios) above you will need to gel the strobes. This is because the ambient light at this time of the day is extremely warm and the color cast will be difficult to correct later in post-process. CTO gels should be your preferred choice.

In the first scenario have the strobe placed at 180 ° to the position of the sun. This basically creates a cross-lighting setup. The subjects will be lit from behind by the sun and from the other side, which will be slightly darker as the main light (the sun) is behind, will be lit by the fill-light, i.e., your strobe. Depending on the position of the couple’s faces you will have a nice transition area between the sun-lit and the strobe-lit sections.

Some photographers prefer a second strobe that is fired aimed at this transition area. I personally prefer a contrasting look. You are free to choose whichever setup you wish to go with. With the light(s) thus setup, meter for the background. Use just enough light to balance the exposure on the subject’s faces. An external light meter is essential as it will help you to balance the exposure. Start by selecting your aperture value. Then meter for the background to establish the shutter speed you need. Next, dial in the power settings on the flash so that it is just about half a stop to one stop higher than the exposure for the background. This ensures that the faces are properly lit. This also ensures some contrast in the image. Take it away from there.

In the second scenario with the light dropping fast an extended golden hour shoot may not be possible. But you can mimic the golden hour light to extend the window of opportunity. Thanks to Pye from Lin & Jirsa Photography from whom I came to know about this technique of using an external flash in outdoor shooting. You need a powerful strobe for this. Place it as far back from your couple as you need, to make the effect look realistic. Gel the strobe with CTO gels to get a warm color tone and to make it appear as the Sun during golden hour. Pose your couple and make your images. This technique will however work as long as there is a reasonable amount of light in the sky to make it look realistically golden hour.

Tip # 3 – Working during the blue hour

The blue hour is an extended shooting opportunity for the discerning photographer, a short creative window at the end of the day, a value for money proposition for the patient photographer. I personally like shooting when there is still a touch of warm light at the corner of the western hemisphere. That kind of contradicts with the overall blue sky. The blue hour is a good example for using an external flash in outdoor shooting scenario. For the blue hour I prefer mostly front lit setups as the ambient light is too less to be of any significant use except as a backdrop. A single light fired from high above through a diffuser and or grid depending on the look works just fine. Just to make it interesting I would gel the flash to produce a warm light and contradict with the blue background.

Tip # 4 – After dark portraits with flash

After dark portraits invariably needs whatever ambient light is available just for the sake of producing an interesting background in the composition. Street lights, light trails from passing vehicles, shop windows anything and everything works. You don’t want to have an infinitely black background for your portraits. This of course does not apply to certain genres such as star trails or Milky Way photography. They need completely different approach.

How to light your subject for night-time portraits

Making portraits during the night using an external flash

You need to remember a couple of things when shooting at night with flash. Your shutter speed will determine how much of the ambient light you are letting in for your exposure. Slower the shutter speed, brighter will be the background and more light trail you will capture. Must use a tripod. The hand-held approach at night time with a slow shutter speed rarely works. Use the flash in rear-curtain sync mode to ensure there are no blur.

Tip # 5 – Working under shade

Another opportunity to use an external flash in outdoor shooting is when you are shooting under the shade. A shade is a good place to shoot when the light is hard. Shade provides a natural diffuser. But what if it is overcast and the light is diffused? How do you use flash in a situation like this? Well the flash can be used in most outdoor situations. In this case you can use it to warm things up a bit. You can also use a CTO gel.

using external flash when photographing under the shade

Photographing under the shade with

Bonus Tip – The fill-flash mode

I know I promised five methods. Consider this a bonus tip on using external flash in outdoor shooting. This mode is a favorite with photographers when they are caught in a hard lighting situation with the sun almost directly overhead with no shade around. Turning the subject away from the sun doesn’t do too much of a difference either in this situation. Using the fill-flash mode is a good solution in such a situation apart from praying for some cumulonimbus clouds. Fill-flash works by filing in all the shadows that form around the eyes, under the nose and the chin and in the process create a softer, more flattering portrait.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

You may also like

Ben Novoselsky July 2, 2017

Best Books on Portrait Photography

In this discussion we shall take a look at some very useful books on a particular genre of ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 9, 2016

Advantage Of Shooting Film In The Digital Age

Old But Not Obsolete
The dawn of digital sensor also brought in the demise of film. In many ways ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 28, 2015

Getting to Know Your Camera Lens

The optical piece of equipment that sits in front of your camera is the single most important piece ...

Ben Novoselsky August 6, 2014

Auto Exposure Bracketing: Everything You Wanted to Know


Multiple camera shots with different expose combined in HDR photo
by sumitrodda


If you are just starting out in digital photography, you have probably never heard about auto exposure bracketing (AEB). If you are an enthusiast photographer, probably you have heard about this but never quite mastered the concept to use it with confidence. Regardless of your expertise in digital photography this article can help you master an extremely important feature of your DSLR, i.e.; auto exposure bracketing (AEB).

Читать дальше...

Rajib Mukherjee September 17, 2016

How to Bounce an On-camera External Flash to Produce Better Images

Having purchased your first external flash you must be super-excited. You must be experimenting ...

Ben Novoselsky November 13, 2015

Shooting Wide Panorama of Cities

Even with a wide angle lens you need to realize that there is no way that you can shoot a wide ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2016

The Uses of ND Filters in Landscape Photography

Often, amateur landscape photographers tend to have lots of issues trying to balance an exposure in ...

Ben Novoselsky September 21, 2014

Using Circular Polarizing Filter (a C-PL Filter)

Photographers shooting landscapes in broad daylight or shooting objects with shiny metallic ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 13, 2014

Understanding camera metering modes

As a photographer, digital or otherwise, one thing that you need to have a good idea of is the ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

The Top 7 Compact Cameras for Travelers Under $2000

When it comes to travel photography you need not only to make great images, which is kind of given ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 23, 2015

Benefits of joining a photography class

Digital photography is a vast field of specialized knowledge. Well, even if not many ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2017

Wedding Photography – the History of the Genre

The history of recording a wedding dates back to a time long before photography came about. The ...

Ben Novoselsky May 11, 2015

Understanding Lens Vignetting

A technical term that you are likely to hear a lot is lens vignetting. Lens vignetting (sometimes ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 8, 2015

Great Images Come From Great Underlying Stories

I am a photographer who loves making photos of people and places. So every now and then I pack my ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 22, 2015

What is Focus Stacking?

Landscape photographers are obsessed with the idea of sharp images. They use a multitude of methods ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 26, 2015

Photographing a landmark at night

Often, when traveling through a foreign land we find ourselves in front of an iconic building or ...

Ben Novoselsky September 12, 2014

The Basic Rules of Photography and Common Mistakes

Everyone, even professionals, makes mistakes, although their mistakes are rare and usually caused ...

Ben Novoselsky October 24, 2016

Using a Softbox as your Key Light

The soft box is your definitive source of lighting a model or an object in order to photograph it. ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 15, 2016

Don’t Decide on That Second Lens Until You Read This

Let me start by congratulating you. Why? You may ask. The fact that you are here looking for some ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Ben Novoselsky June 9, 2015

Five Reasons to Invest in External Light

People more or less start the same way. Someone somewhere loves us dearly enough so as to send us a ...

Ben Novoselsky May 14, 2017

Survey of Photo Contests by Industry

Does photo contests make sense in participating? – For Recognition
Absolutely. There is no better ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 6, 2014

Everyday photography ideas

I wrote a detailed article on the topic of photographic inspiration recently. The aim was to keep ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

Nikon D4S Discontinued

Nikon has officially marked the D4S as discontinued. One look at the official Nikon Japan website ...

Ben Novoselsky May 2, 2016

How Does Hyperfocal Distance Affect Your Images?

Landscape photographers often use the terms focusing distance and hyperfocal distance in relation ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 6, 2016

Huawei Passes Image by 5D Mark III as Shot by P9, Apologizes

There is only one rule in advertising. It is not all right when you imply something in your ...

Ben Novoselsky April 6, 2017

Correct Framing in Portrait Photography

Framing is an integral part of the whole process of image making. Be it landscapes, or portraits or ...

Ben Novoselsky October 27, 2014

7 Silly Mistakes I Made as an Amateur Photographer

1. Leaving the lens cap on

Amateurs are guilty of making some of the most cardinal of mistakes. ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 21, 2016

Lighting techniques for shooting in studio environment

A studio setup allows you to be creative in ways you could never ever manage without lights. There ...

Ben Novoselsky September 22, 2016

Seven Photography Tools that You Should Possess to Improve Your Images

This discussion is about the tools of trade that we photographers need to possess in order to make ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 28, 2015

The five questions you shouldn’t ask when buying your camera

Call it our ignorance or plain laziness, we hardly make the research to find out more about a ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2017

Background for Portrait Photography

Background for portrait photography – An Introduction
Backgrounds assume a critical importance in ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2016

How do you tweak the Sunny 16 Rule in Photography?

You are out with your family on a bright sunlit day. The kind of day on which photographers prefer ...

Ben Novoselsky July 18, 2016

How to Work with Leading Lines in Your Photography

Leading lines are one of the most important aspects of photography. They have the power to draw a ...

Ben Novoselsky July 14, 2015

Five Natural Light Shooting Tips

You may have heard, nature and natural light photographers often say this – you must head out at ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2015

How editing your stock photography can lead to more sales

Before you can start selling your images on microstock websites you ought to know a few things ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 28, 2015

A Guide to Choosing the Right Camera Lens for the Job

Digital interchangeable lens cameras are the preferred choice for shooting professional quality ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 30, 2016

Introducing Canon Dual Pixel RAW Technology

Last week, the much awaited Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut. The rumor mills have been abuzz for ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 3, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Shoot Environmental Portraits

As a genre, environmental portraits are a challenge of sorts for most photographers. It is because ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2016

Product Photography Tips to Get Started

Apart from portraiture, product photography is one of those few genres which can provide a steady ...

Rajib Mukherjee June 13, 2016

Google Ara: The Future of Smartphone Photography

Sometime last week during Google I/O, which has now become one of the most eagerly awaited events ...

Ben Novoselsky June 29, 2017

7 Main Mistakes when Retouching Wedding Images

If there were one genre of photography that you could do without retouching then that genre would ...

Kelsey Fox December 18, 2014

How Properly Holding Your Camera Can Lead to Better Photos

The way you hold your camera is almost as important as choosing the right kind of camera to shoot ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 6, 2016

Essential Tips to Improve your Photography

If you have recently migrated from a compact point & shoot to a DSLR you no doubt will be very ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 29, 2015

Working with the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

One of the least understood aspects of photography is color correction. Even experienced ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 22, 2016

How to Photograph Christmas Lights

Watching the Diwali lights come on one by one, at each house in our colony I couldn’t stop thinking ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 9, 2016

Samyang 20mm f/1.8 Manual Focusing Lens Officially Announced

Samyang 20mm f/1.8

Great news for full-frame shooters. Samyang has officially announced the 20mm ...

Ben Novoselsky December 23, 2015

Outdoor Photography Beyond the Golden Hour

Landscape photographers love shooting during the golden hour of the day. They love the warm mushy ...

Ben Novoselsky September 17, 2015

About focal length and background distortion

You may have heard professionals talking about the right focal length and how choosing anything ...

Ben Novoselsky July 28, 2016

Why Adjusting White Balance Can Lead to a Better Image

One of the challenges faced by photographers on a daily basis is adjusting white balance of their ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 19, 2016

Choosing the Best Travel Photography Lens

A lot of amateur photographers find it difficult to zero in on the best travel photography lens for ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 11, 2016

An Introduction to Hyper-lapse

What is a Hyper-lapse?
Hyper-lapse is one of those cool photography techniques which uses a ...

Ben Novoselsky August 3, 2014

5 Useful Tips for Making Great Images in Low Light

Cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D3X have completely changed the playing field when ...

Ben Novoselsky December 25, 2015

Shooting videos with your digital SLR – An Introduction

Today’s digital SLR cameras are extremely versatile. They are ideally suitable for not only great ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2015

Light Painting in Photography: An Introduction

Light painting is a very interesting technique in photography that predominantly uses artificial ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 25, 2014

Photography inspiration: How to keep shooting images

As an amateur we see images taken by photographers like Eric Kim or Jeremy Cowart or Chase Jarvis ...

Kelsey Fox June 29, 2014

6 Tips for Shooting in Harsh Light

Whether they dabble in photography or shoot with the pros, most photographers know that there is no ...

Ben Novoselsky August 12, 2016

About Flash Sync Speed Limitations and How to Work Around It

We often hear about flash sync speed and how we normally cannot use a flash to sync at extremely ...

Author March 9, 2017

Should I Upgrade my Camera Body or my Lens?

It is all too common for a wide range of emotions to complicate the decision to upgrade the body of ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Rajib Mukherjee December 21, 2015

Some creative uses of Depth of Field

The main shooting mode dial on your camera has the letter(s) A or Av (depending on the camera ...

Ben Novoselsky April 20, 2015

Low angle photography tips

One of the least used perspectives in photography is the low angle. I bet every photographer thinks ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 15, 2015

Advantages of a hand-held light meter over a built-in light meter

In one of the previous articles on this website I discussed in detail the many different metering ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 23, 2015

How to properly use a pop-up flash

A question that most amateur DSLR users seem to ask is what is the correct use of the pop-up flash ...

Ben Novoselsky August 21, 2014

Tips for Shooting Fireworks Photos

Every Independence Day, or even Memorial or Labor Day, it’s common — a given, even — to see ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

Hasselblad X1D-50c: The world’s first medium format mirrorless camera is here

It’s official! Hasselblad is the world’s first medium format mirrorless camera. After months of ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 6, 2016

Basic Real Estate Photo Tips

The following real estate photo tips will help you to get started as a professional photographer. ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 3, 2016

Getting Started in Low Light Photography

Introducing Low Light Photography
For those of you who primarily shoot with a smartphone or even a ...

Ben Novoselsky August 27, 2014

5 Tips to Choose an External Flash

Congratulations on buying your first DSLR! Now you are well and truly on the road to photographic ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 11, 2017

Camera Settings Presets for Shooting Different Scenes

Camera settings presets are a combination of buttons and dials that can be used to recall a ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 23, 2015

Understanding ISO, the least understood of the three exposure parameters

If you look at the main aspects that govern exposure, you would obviously realize that there are ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 1, 2014

Image Stabilization: Why It Matters, Types and How to Use

In the overall history of camera technology image stabilization is a rather recent development. ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 7, 2014

Understanding the Basics of a Good Exposure

Exposure is the key concept that governs all forms of photography where light in some form or the ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 10, 2014

An introduction to creating timelapse videos

Timelapse videos have become somewhat clichéd these days with an increasing number of photographers ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 26, 2014

Don’t copy the masters’ style blindly, create your own style

Growing up as photographers one of the biggest source of guidance are the works created by already ...

Ben Novoselsky August 9, 2016

How to Use Backlighting to Isolate Your Subject

I love shooting with backlighting. Backlighting is one of those acquired tastes in photography that ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2015

Five features on your DSLR camera that you probably never use

Your camera comes with three handy metering systems. If you are using a Canon system camera yours ...

Ben Novoselsky October 6, 2016

Some Basic Food Photography Tips

If you are a genuine foodie it would be a natural transgression to want to shoot images of the ...

Ben Novoselsky May 18, 2017

Best Metering Mode for Landscape, Portrait, Wedding Photography

One of the most fundamental aspects of photography is to meter a scene. Metering denotes measuring ...

Ben Novoselsky August 19, 2016

Why You Should Invest in a Tripod

There are probably a hundred reasons why you should invest in a tripod. I am not going to detail ...

Rajib Mukherjee February 25, 2015

How to Make Your Backgrounds Blurred

Sometimes you may need to blur out the background of your images. Let’s say you are shooting ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Ben Novoselsky August 18, 2014

Everything You Wanted To Know About Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density filters are primarily used for balancing exposures. By balancing exposure, I mean ...

Popular posts

Ben Novoselsky June 25, 2015

A Review of Online Photo Printing Options

One of the things that photographers are guilty of and I am referring to both amateurs and ...

Ben Novoselsky November 6, 2014

Portrait Photography Lighting Tips

Portrait photography, especially when we talk about studio portrait photography, as a genre, is ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 4, 2015

AF Tricks and Tips for Wildlife Photography

When it comes to wildlife photography, choosing the right auto-focusing mode can often make the ...

Ben Novoselsky November 24, 2014

Awesome Tips for Photographing Groups

Photographing groups can be extremely difficult. Usually, the need for large groups occurs at ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2015

Light Painting in Photography: An Introduction

Light painting is a very interesting technique in photography that predominantly uses artificial ...

Ben Novoselsky June 18, 2015

How to Price Yourself as a Photographer

A question often asked by entry level protogs is how much to charge for their services. Many find ...

  • Simply put , this is called the Cost of Doing Business (CODB) and the best CODB calculator for photographers can be found at NPPA.org (The National Press Photographers Association). Her is the link: https://nppa.org/page/3275
    IF it doesn’t work, just go to NPPA.org and put calculator into the search box.

    Then join and organization that “has your back” – ASMP.org, APA.org, PPA, etc