Fall Portraits Outdoors; Working In Autumnal Light

Fall is one of the best times of the year to shoot outdoor portraits. This piece will focus on how to best utilize the autumnal light to bring a warm glow to your images and make your subjects look great. Choose your location and time of day with your subjects’ features in mind and explore this magical time of year.

Late Afternoon Light
Alyson is lying on a blanket of decaying leaves with the late afternoon sun on her head and shoulders. Using a piece of white foamcore angled up toward her face, the sun’s rays fill in any shadows for even lighting. I wanted to call attention to the redness of her hair created by the sunlight—any other lighting would be distracting. I also have enough color in the background, with the leaves and the warm hue of the magic hour lighting, to make this a nice, casual shot. (Nikon D700, 24-120mm lens, f/5.3, 1⁄60 sec, ISO 200, daylight color balance: 5600?K.)

Julia is bathed in as warm a magic hour light as you can find. It’s as if every oak leaf on the ground is reflecting the warm rays of the sun for the last time before the harshness of winter sets in. As the sun caresses her right cheek, the gold reflector in front of her is sending over 80 percent of its light back onto her face. I set the color temperature as low as I could go without it being tungsten (4000?K). The left side of her face is pure reflection from the reflector, although it could be explained as being from the yellow leaves on the ground. A shot this warm is acceptable because you see that all of the surrounding color is a warm yellow. (Nikon D700, 24-120mm lens, f/5.6, 1⁄250 sec, ISO 400, daylight color balance: 4000?K.)

All Photos © 2010, Chuck Gloman, All Rights Reserved

Overcast Fall Day
Jen has very light skin and is wearing dark clothing. This was shot on a very overcast day, so the light is naturally blue. Using a camera-mounted flash (Nikon SB-900), the daylight color balance (5600?K) lowers the color temperature from the cloudy and blue 8000?K. Fall lighting has many moods and slightly cooler light balanced with a white balance setting works great. (Nikon D3X, 24-70mm lens, f/3.2, 1⁄60 sec, ISO 200, daylight color balance: 5600?K.)

Gold Reflector
Wearing a colorful top with yellow leaves blurred in the background, our eyes are still drawn to Corinne’s beautiful eyes. The warmth on her face is created by a gold reflector bouncing the sun’s light. Here, the camera is balanced at 4800?K for a slightly warmer hue. However, the warmth of magic hour, the yellow leaves, and the gold reflector do not hurt either. Keeping the depth of field narrow blurs the background so just her face remains in sharp focus. (Nikon D700, 24-120mm lens, f/5.6, 1⁄100 sec, ISO 200, daylight color balance: 4800?K.)

Using Shallow Depth Of Field
I wanted a sea of yellow behind Monica. The depth of field is shallow (f/5.6). The late afternoon, magic hour light still falls on her hair, but it is diffused slightly because a silk was placed between her and the sun. A fill-in flash helps make her eyes sparkle and even the lighting on her face. Her red hair appears even more so because the camera’s color temperature is in the mid-4000?K range. (Nikon D700, 24-120mm lens, f/5.6, 1⁄60 sec, ISO 200, daylight color balance: 4500?K.)

Slight Fill Flash
In a slightly different shot with Monica, I had her stand so the sun provided rim lighting. The setting sun is just glancing off her face and a large oak tree can be seen in the background. By turning her head into partial shade, I still had some natural fill from the ground, but also used a slight amount of fill flash with a low output level. It added just a slight twinkle in her eyes. (Nikon D700, 24-120mm lens, f/5.3, 1⁄60 sec, ISO 200, daylight color balance: 5600?K.)

Bright Contrast Background = Fill Flash
With Ian, the flaming red hues of the background contrast his broad frame. His green eyes and light complexion complement the dark suit and blurred red background. Again, you want soft, diffused, even lighting with the background being in direct sunlight at least two stops hotter than your subject. With Ian in the shade and the red bush in the light, I used a fill flash to provide even light on his face and to highlight his eyes. (Nikon D700, 24-120mm lens, f/5.6, 1⁄100 sec, ISO 200, daylight color balance: 5600?K.)

Chuck Gloman is the program director of the TV/Film department as well as a member of the faculty at DeSales University. He may be reached via e-mail at: chuck.gloman@desales.edu.

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You have done a great job on those photos, you really know your way into those photos, of what effects you are going to use. Photography is an art and art is photography. - Wes Upchurch