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Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

The ingredients for making great portraits are easy to find: You need a subject, a camera, and some light. But like any good chef knows, it’s how the ingredients are prepared that help to cook up a delicious portrait. When talking about portraiture with amateur or aspiring pro photographers, they often tell me they want to do a better job but don’t have studios or expensive lighting equipment. Let’s not worry about where to make portraits because we all have access to the great outdoors and a better-than-average chance at creating great indoor portraits if we take the time to look.

One of my favorite techniques for outdoor portraiture is backlighting. This can produce beautiful highlights on the subject’s hair and blow out the background to create a pseudo high-key effect. The next time you plan to photograph somebody outdoors, place them in a position that you might normally use with the sun on their face and then turn them around! Right away your subjects are more relaxed because the sun is behind them and they won’t have to squint!

Next turn on your flash. Be sure to use it, otherwise the subject will appear to be a silhouette. In order to get a final image that you can live with, you may have to open the lens a few stops over the metered exposure – just as you might with any backlit subject. If you plan to shoot full length portraits instead of close-up, a more powerful speedlight will be more effective than the weaker pop-up flashes found on entry-level digital SLRs.

The above portrait was created using an Olympus E01 with 14-54mm f/3.5 lens and an Olympus FL-50 speedlight used as fill. Exposure set at 1/160 at f/8 and ISO 200.

Joe Farace is the author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” the second book in a trilogy from Amherst Media. It’s available on The third book, “Available Light Glamour” should be available “real soon now.”


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