View Full Version : Reducing shadows in outdoors portraits

25-11-2010, 12:03am
Hello Group,

First post and just going to jump right into it!

Ive got a canon 500d with a speedlite 480ex (no diffuser) attached on-camera and have done a few portraiture shoots outdoors, mainly on beaches with families or kids. I regularly get uneven and fairly harsh shadows on the subjects, regardless of the time of day.

I recently purchased a 5 in 1 reflector and while that seems to help up close, ive noticed it doesn't really spread out the light when there's more than 1 subject. Worse still the subject(s) don't appreciate the blast of light coming from the reflector, regardless of distance, so its hard to get their eyes fully open and relaxed for the shot. Though this is more a problem ive found with kids rather than adults.

Any ideas on what else to try out? Would setting up the speedlite off camera with a wireless trigger/stand/umbrella combo help in reducing the shadows? Or is a diffuser attached on camera (or off camera with a stand) a better way to go?

I use mainly a canon 24-105EF for the shots, with the occasional nifty fifty f1.8 (which I am using less and less since getting the 24-105 :)) if that makes a difference...

Any advice appreciated :)

25-11-2010, 12:24am
Almost any diffuser will produce softer shadow than a bare strobe. Off camera for people shots is almost always best, it eliminates red-eye, gives some depth and you can use a reflector to fill from the opposite side without bothering subjects too much. basically the larger the light source, the softer the shadows and the softer the light. The diffuser dome often supplied with strobes is better than nothing, but, they still only create a small source of light. A single umbrella on a stand with umbrella bracket and strobe will create a much softer light that wraps better around your subject.

25-11-2010, 12:23pm
Hi Wayne,

Thanks for the response. I think I will try getting a off camera flash solution and play around with that, switching between an umbrella and a diffuser. Diffuser might be better in situations on a beach where portability and wind can factor.

Either way off-camera flash looks like the way to go.

Any advice on strobist kits with portability and ease of setup in mind?


25-11-2010, 5:15pm
Strobist kits vary widely in price and functionality.

I own 6 Nikon SB-900's and use them on lightweight stands with Manfrotto umbrella brackets. They are a powerful little strobe, and as long as it is not midday sun you are trying to fight they will light up almost anything. I shoot these using umbrellas both reflective and shoot through, and the one thing to watch is that with my very lightweight stands even a small wind turns the 60" umbrellas into a parasail. I need some much heavier stands. I recently bought a portable studio strobe kit Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS with fast 'A' heads. This gives up to 1100 watt seconds (ws) which can overpower almost any daylight. I haven't shot them yet (just arrived from USA) but I'm going to need new stands because I'm not sticking these heads onto the ones I have given their replacement cost should they fall over.

As a guide, Manfrotto umbrella swivel bracket about $35, umbrella from $15+ depending upon size and make, some AA batteries (rechargeable and charger is best value - Protog site sponsor have excellent items here) cheap stand $25 and depending upon how you want to trigger the light there may be a cost for radio triggers, which go from about $20 cheap Ebay to several hundred for Pocket Wizards, Radiopopper etc. Nikon can trigger wirelessly with most bodies made in recent couple of years so no cost, and I think the 580EXII can too with certain bodies, but in really bright light that method may not be super reliable.

Portable studio strobe route = alot more $$. The Elinchrom kit I have runs USD$2200 + $400 freight from B&H in the USA, and it runs about $3000 here from Digital Camera Warehouse if you can get it in stock.

25-11-2010, 5:53pm
Can you post an example of one of the pic's you are referring to? It helps others who are not experienced with flash/strobe work learn too. :th3:

26-11-2010, 5:13am
It may be more about diffusing the bright sun rather than reflecting it backwards especially at the beach. Examples would be great.

29-11-2010, 11:01am
Hi Guys,

Thanks for all your replies, the elinchrom is a bit out of my budget ;) Might stick with a simple flash based solution for the moment and get a feel for that, wind being a factor I wouldn't want to risk anything too costly if it gets knocked over!

Ill try and get some photos and post them, just need permission from the subjects.

On that topic, im not really at the stage of getting contracts, any useful resources on handling publishing of photos and what rights I have as the photographer?

Thanks for everyone help!


29-11-2010, 11:13am
Youre going to really struggle getting a speedlitght to overpower the sun at a beach by the way, just getting your shutter speed low enough to achieve maximum sync speed must be a struggle without using a ND filter etc......best to try to shoot backlit, or as suggested get a lot of diffused light.

29-11-2010, 11:21am
Hi Kiwi,

Say there is shadow on the right of the subject, so the sun is to the left of the subject.

Wouldn't having a speedlite with an umbrella (or diffuser) on the right of the subject go a long way to reducing the shadows?

I know it wont achieve an even light equivalent to the sun, but i'm aiming for something close to it :)

Its hard to explain without the photos, ill try and put some samples online when I get home from work.

29-11-2010, 12:17pm
Yeah, photos will help....but no matter how powerful the flash, its often really difficult to get a settingw here it will actually add much in bright sun.

For example, my max sync speed is 1/250s....as shutter speed doubles flash power halves

29-11-2010, 7:23pm
not always possible, but if you can get your subjects into some open shade, then you can avoid the flash, and get some nice overexposed backlight. if you must, a Lastolite shade will do a good job.