Other than photographers that live on Caribbean, Atlantic or Pacific islands, spring and summer are the times photographers enjoy the most to capture some great outdoor photos. Like seagulls we flock to the nearest and largest body of water. Whether it’s a swimming pool, lake, or beach, it’s nature’s way to cool us off, but as photographers, we know it’s the perfect time to photograph models outdoors, so here are some tips for outdoor model photography.

Outdoor Model Photography Tip

The eyes and the face are the most important part of a photograph for indoor and outdoor model photography, but when it comes to the outdoors, without the proper photography lighting tools, the sun and even clouds can become problematic. The background screen for the Sun-Cage are two -1/3 stop No Moiré screens at 90-degrees to each other, thus a -2/3 stop darker background.

It’s All About the Eyes
Besides a great time for model photography, summertime provides the retail industry the ability to make billions each year as they sell everything from swimsuits to snorkel fins — most sold with advertisements that feature photographs of beautiful, bikini-clad models. Ever notice how the model’s eyes are somehow wide-open and properly exposed with light verses your vacation photos?

The reason those professional photos used in advertising look so good, isn’t postproduction, it’s because a professional photographer knows you must get it right in the camera first and to capture those beautiful eyes, you must diffuse harsh light on a bright sunny day and add contrast to low-contrast cloudy day light. This is easily achieved with the right photographic gear like a Sun-Scrim, Sun-Cage, or Sun-Swatter. These are the photographer’s tools that create open shade, or a friendlier and flattering environment for your models, not to mention, there’s less chance of a sunburn, at least for your models like in this photography tip article, Scrims in Photography.

Outdoor Model Photography Tip

Many photographers think “cloudy days” are not for photography reflectors or light modifiers, not true. As you see here, we used a SUNBOUNCE Sun-Cage with a “black” screen on one side which effectively adds contrast to a rather low-contrast cloud cover day. We also used a SUNBOUNCE Pro with a Zebra fabric and a SUNBOUNCE MINI with a Sparkling Sun fabric to add more contrast and throw a more concentrated diffused light onto our models. Another way to look at this, don’t arrive at the location and think the clouds will remain all day because when they dissipate, your photography lighting equipment is ready to go.

One thing to note in the behind the scenes Sun-Cage photo above, SUNBOUNCE makes “light seals for the top and bottom of the Sun-Cage to prevent “spill light” on your model or subject. Because it was cloudy, we omitted them, but normally you’d use them.

Now that you have your model in a more favorable light scenario, you need to reflect light back onto your model so your background isn’t overexposed, and your model looks alive and beautiful. My favorite reflectors here are the SUNBOUNCE Sparkling Sun fabric for normal skin tones and the SUNBOUNCE 3D Raindrops Silver for darker skin tones. I’ve also found that these two reflectors provide enough light for the model, but rarely make them squint verses a solid silver or gold fabric reflector.

Outdoor Model Photography Tip

Here professional photographer Mike Majewski holds a SUNBOUNCE MINI fitted with a Sparkling Sun reflector fabric screen. Model Rebecca holds the Sun-Swatter to remove the harsh sunlight from Kellie, notice the “open-shade” the Sun-Swatter produces.

Regardless of your reflector fabric screen choice, you can reduce the squint in the model’s eyes with a piece of black tulle cloth, a sheer black fabric material purchased at your local fabric store. Simply place it over your photography reflector screen and carefully secure it with binder or bulldog clips — but don’t clip it to the fabric, clip it to the sturdy aluminum frame like those found on the SUNBOUNCE MINI and PRO photography reflectors.

Your Shirt Matters
Light reflects off all types of surfaces including a photographer’s clothes. A professional photographer knows, never wear bright colors to an outdoor model photography shoot. Ever notice at photography events that the professional photographers, especially those that are guest speakers, wear black?

Outdoor Model Photography Tip

Here’s one of the photos from the Sun-Swatter and SUNBOUNCE MINI with their Sparkling Sun reflector fabric screen.

It’s not because they’re trying to hide in the shadows, it’s probably more because it’s a “thing” with speakers at photo events. Who knows? Even I’ve done it. But on a photo shoot when it comes to outdoor model photography, black t-shirts help you not become an additional reflector to their subject. Of note, bright colored shirts can also add an unwanted color cast to your model’s skin tone.

Yes, black absorbs light and you’ll probably sweat a bit more than wearing white, but your sweat indicates you’re absorbing the energy (light and heat) away from the model’s eyes as she looks at the camera, thus giving her a comfortable place to look and rest her eyes and not squint.

Reflected Light
Reflected light from the sky, water, sand and even the concrete edges off a swimming pool can create a lot of harsh shadows and squinted eyes. Basically, anything on the white side of the tonal scale in addition to reflective surfaces like sand or water will reflect light like crazy. Beaches or swimming pools are notorious reflectors of sunlight as well as anything made of glass or painted white in color.

Normally reflected and diffused light are much sweeter than direct sunlight, but only if you can control that light relative to your subject’s position to the camera. For example, someone sitting at the pool’s edge is being bombarded from pool water reflections and there’s a high chance your light quality is substandard. However, as a photographer you can change that light quality if you simply scrim the water with something like a Sun-Scrim or Sun-Swatter.

Think of it as this, if you can control the light through reflection, diffusion, or redirection, you then can control the quality of the light. It’s the light that you can’t control that often bites you in the butt. But you can also block this uncontrollable light from striking your subject either with a black Sun-Scrim panel, or a black screen for your SUNBOUNCE Pro or Mini.

Camera Exposure
That same reflected light that you must block or scrim, is also the culprit to many underexposed subjects in vacation photos. Camera meters are often fooled by all this reflected light and over-correct, thus the results are underexposed photos.

Outdoor Model Photography Tip

This was taken in the Sun-Cage with the set-up found in the first photo above to include a black fabric screen to add contrast to the final image.

For a professional photographer, especially if they use mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders where what you see is what you get, they simply adjust their under/over exposure compensation to overexpose the image by at least an f/stop or more, depending on the camera make, model and metering system.

Though digital cameras use superior matrix metering systems today than their predecessor film cameras, camera meters are often fooled by more reflected light than normal. This is especially true with cell phone cameras. Again, this is where the electronic WYSIWYG viewfinder in mirrorless cameras beats the old technology DSLR’s today.

Whether you capture images with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you don’t want to actually overexpose your photos, you’re simply using this compensation dial to “recalibrate” the digital camera’s thought process, so the camera metering system “thinks” that you want to overexpose the image. This allows the camera to open up the lens aperture or decrease the shutter speed to achieve the proper camera exposure. In actuality, the digital camera corrects the exposure back to normal with this photography camera technique.

Bottom Line
Ideally, to reduce false camera metering values and ensure your subject’s eyes are brilliant, some photographers wait until the light is perfect and avoid the midday light, especially around swimming pools, beaches or large bodies of water. This is a great concept if you like long, large lunches and are into afternoon siestas. You’ll also capture less photos and your models will enjoy tanning and lounging while other photographers will surpass you.

Sure, it’s true, the best light is the early morning hours or the Golden Hour before sunset, but if you’re not a morning person, prefer healthier lunches, and are a productive professional photographer, then grab the right light modifier tools and shoot throughout the day. In the end when your photo shoot finishes, avoid flocks of seagulls, put your snorkel fins on and just jump in the water—though don’t take your digital camera with you!


Rolando Gomez is a professional photographer and author of five photography books that has traveled to 45 countries for assignments. The former soldier and U.S. Army combat photographer has taught hundreds of photography workshops for almost two decades. A 2016, 2017 and 2018 Top Writer for Quora, his partial credits include Newsweek, Parade, Playboy, Rangefinder, Maxim, Rangefinder, New York Times, Stars & Stripes, and various other publications.
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