Guide to Using Strobes Outside

This is a small briefing on using strobes outside. If you have specific questions please email me. 

Find your background.

Look where the sun is coming from and find a background that will help tell your story.
For me the background is most important, it's the reason we are outside. I generally try to find as much shade as I can. I don't like using the sun If I don’t have to, it usually does not match the look I am going for. But if you have to shoot in the sun try to have the side of your subject that you are shooting in complete shade.  If there is no provided shade, have your subject in between you and the sun and shoot on the same side as their shadow. This puts you into the fully shaded side of the subject that you're shooting.
Tip- Watch for light that wraps around and hits things like the nose.  It's ok for the sun to act as a rim light on your subjects face but you generally don’t want any little sun spots from  being sloppy with light.


All images below a strobe was used to fill in the shadow side of the subject while the sun rim lighted them. 


Ignore the strobe.

Remember to ignore the strobe at first. Focus on the ambient light. After you have your background picked out and you're shooting into the shaded side of your subject, you will want to expose for your background, not your subject. Unless you have a ND filter, or high speed sync your aperture will control your background exposure the most. Your ISO and shutter speed will play a bigger role in balancing out your exposure when you're shooting in the evening or in darker situations, but not on bright sunny days.


Exposure your subject.

After you have your camera settings set from exposing for the ambient light you can grab your strobe. Now use your strobe to properly expose your subject. You will have to adjust the power of your strobe, not your camera settings if you want to adjust the exposure on your subject and don’t want the exposure of the background to change.

Light placement is hugely related to the look and story I am going for, but for a lot of set ups I try to place my light 45 degrees away from where I am shooting to give the subject a little shape. Remember since you're shooting on the subjects shaded side, or are in shade your subject will be flat. The point of the strobe is to give them dimension. Create shape with the shadows. If your shadows are too dark then your strobe is probably too powerful.  If the light is to straight on then the subject tends to look a little flat. I also try to place the strobe on the side the sun seems to be more prevalent on, this way it seems more natural to have the artificial light in your scene.  Matching the sun's light direction can make a huge difference in the look of your image.


In all the images below a light was placed between 45 to 90 degrees away from the camera. All images a single strobe was used in complete shade.



Light Modifiers

A smaller harsher light modifier will allow for more light to travel to your subject. This can be helpful if you need the most amount of power you can get out of your strobe.  The larger the light modifier the softer the light will be but the less power you will have reaching your subject.

The closer the modifier is to your subject the more power you will get as well, but if you are shooting full body the closer the modifier will result in a less even spread of light.
I  try to match my modifiers with the type of ambient light. If it’s a cloudy day with soft light, I will be more likely to use a softer modifier. If it’s a harsh sunny day I will be more willing to use harder modifiers, although generally  I am not a fan of using any small harsh modifiers.
A perk of smaller modifiers is they are much less likely to catch wind and hurl your light into the ground.


2 lights were used in all images below, 1 as a key, and the other as a rim to replicate the sun. 




Aim the light to the subject's head or chest. This will give the most natural look and will give the right amount of light fall off around the subjects feet(if shooting full body). If the light is aimed too far down there will be a lot of light spill on the ground and will look like sloppy lighting.  You can also shoot from a lower point of view so you don’t see the light spill on the ground as much.

Try to balance the artificial and ambient light. You want the strobe to look as natural as possible. A lot of people tend to use the strobe to prominently, it should be blend seamlessly into your scene.

When you backlight your subject, your background will usually be backlit too. Sometimes this is not a great look, the background becomes darker, less rich in color, and has no shape. There is a way to shoot where the background is in direct sunlight but your subject isn't. Create your own shade. You can use your light modifier to create shade for you subject. You will need a bigger modifier to do this, or multiple lights, or a scrim. This can create some great looks.

The only times I use 2  or more lights is if I need more power, need a 2nd light as a fill, or using a 2nd light to recreate the sun.

Lens choice is much more dramatic when shooting outdoors vs in the studio.
I tend shoot between 24-70mm. But the wider you shoot the more you have to be conscious of your background, light stand, and light fall off.

Buy sandbags, lots of them,  heavy ones too! Spend the extra 50 dollars for several sandbags to save your strobe that costs thousands.
Heavy duty light stands are recommended as well.

For this image I had the model directly facing the sun. I then used a 6x6' Lastolite scrim to diffuse the sunlight. The light on her was pretty flat then and she was much darker then the background so I used 2 Canon 600EX-RT speedlites in a 43 inch Westcott Apollo Orb to bring her to a proper exposure. 

For this image I had the model directly facing the sun. I then used a 6x6' Lastolite scrim to diffuse the sunlight. The light on her was pretty flat then and she was much darker then the background so I used 2 Canon 600EX-RT speedlites in a 43 inch Westcott Apollo Orb to bring her to a proper exposure. 

For this shot I wanted to recreate the sun. The climber was in complete shade and was a little flat for my taste. I used a Canon 600EX-RT speedlite with no modifier directky behind him as a rim light. 

For this shot I wanted to recreate the sun. The climber was in complete shade and was a little flat for my taste. I used a Canon 600EX-RT speedlite with no modifier directky behind him as a rim light. 

Iceland 2017

Trip summary

After finding some really inexpensive airlines tickets through WOW Airlines, the 3 of us, Lear Miller, Brian Dunham, and myself decided to travel to Iceland for 6 days. Being my first trip to Iceland I didn't know what all to expect,  I had no idea what landscapes should take priority. Luckily going with a friend who's been before made it easier. The first half of the trip we spent driving along the southern coast making our way to Vik, and eventually reaching our furthest eastern point Jokulsarlon. This half of the trip we were pestered by quite a bit of bad weather, we didn't even see sunlight to our 3rd day. We went through a lot of microfibers and plastic bags trying to keep our gear dry, and thank god for Canon's weather sealing, seriously thank you Canon.  We then back tracked and made our way past Reykjavik and on to Grundarfjordur. Thanks to Lear we had a very Icelandic Land Rover to cruise in all week from Isak rentals. We stayed in some last minute hostels and vrbo's to keep the expenses down. 
Only having 6 days on the very photogenic island means we spent a lot of time driving to make sure we could see as much as we possibly could. Most days we spent at least 5 hours in the car. On the plus side due to the short hours of winter we were able to get most the driving done in the dark, but this also meant not having much daylight to work with. By our last day we had still yet to see any northern lights, except for the epic show we got on the plane ride in. Luckily the photo gods were on our side and gave us a nice parting gift with some northern lights near Hellnar.  
Since Iceland is blasted all over Instagram I felt like I had already seen it all. It was weird being so familiar with a place I have never been. In a way it desensitized some of my excitement, that along with my constant necessity to capture photos every waking second. I made it a point several times on the trip to hike up to a ridge line or find non populated areas to be by myself. I would put down the camera and appreciate the landscape in front of me. On my adventures I find it very easy to live through my camera and not through my eyes. I think its easy to have a disconnect with nature because of technology. While capturing the memory or creating photographs from these places is fulfilling in its own way, I think the mind likes to be unencumbered by distractions for a few moments to enjoy why you're there in the first place. 
Iceland is a beautiful country that has photogenic landscapes around every corner, but there are some problems that need to be addressed. Iceland now relies on tourism for about 31% of its economic earnings. Tourism is on the rise in Iceland, growing from around 400,000 in 2010, to 1.2 million in 2015, and a projected near 2 million in 2017. Although this is wonderful for their economy it's destroying a lot of the landscapes. I couldn't believe how much trash I would see in these beautiful locations.  If we want to preserve the planet for future generations to enjoy the privileges we have now, we have to do our part and simply pick up after ourselves.  


  • Don't plan on the weather. The saying in Iceland is the weather changes every 10 minutes. This means if you're traveling in the winter, be ready for rain and snow storms. Also with a lot of cloud coverage and often having weak viewing of the northern lights, don't plan on them. But if you do find a clear night they can be easily over looked. On nights when the lights are weak they almost look like white clouds. 
  • Bring shit to keep your gear dry. Plastic camera bags, towels, etc.
  • Don't leave your wet gear in your bag. Let it dry out. If you don't the lens will condensate and you'll have a nice foggy spot that doesn't go away till the lens temperature acclimates to the outside weather which takes about 20 mins. 
  • Try to have a plan. Although i'm not one to like super structured plans while exploring, Iceland has so much to see that you could easily drive past something worth stopping at and not even know it. 

Locations visited

  • Oxararfoss

  • Seljalandsfoss

  • Skógarfoss

  • Dryholaey

  • Kirkjufjara beach

  • Jokulsarlon

  • Kirkjufellsfoss

  • Snaefellsjokull lighthouse

  • Grindavik lighthouse

Gear Used

Camera: Canon 5D mk iii
Lenses: SIGMA 12-24mm f4 art, 20mm f1.4 art, 50mm f1.4 art.
CANON 24-70mm f2.8 v ii, 70-200mm f2.8
Bag: Tamrac 7x
Tripod: Slik Pro 340DX
Misc: PNY 128gb memory cardsBlack Rapid cross shot sling camera strap. Lots of microfibers. Headlamps for light painting.