One of my favorite parts of being a photographer is problem solving. In the 20 years that I have been in the industry, I have had a lot of things go wrong. From equipment failure and accidents to no-shows and weather issues, I have learned to roll with the punches. Below I have outlined several ways you can solve some of the common challenges that come up when shooting outdoors in the elements.

Head for the Shade

Shooting portraits outdoors in the middle of the day can be very challenging as the directly overhead angle of the sun result in unflattering shadows on the face, specifically under the nose, chin and brow bone.

The easiest way to overcome this issue is to find some shade to work in. Look for deep shade like that created by a building or large tree. Areas of open shade are excellent for portraits as the natural light is broad, even and easy to work with.

When working in open shade I like to place my subject close to the edge of the shaded area, which allows additional light to spill into the shot gently. The bright sunlight outside of the shaded area bounces in and can result in a beautiful accent effect on the sides of your subject’s face.

Slay the Sunlight

Another great way to deal with harsh midday sunlight is to diffuse the sunlight that is falling on your subject’s face with a diffusion panel. Placing a diffusion material above your subject’s head will significantly soften the sunlight and create a flattering area of pretty light to work in.

Adding a white reflector below your subject can do even more to enhance the shot as it bounces the diffused light back up into your subject’s face. This has the effect of brightening the complexion, softening shadows and adding catch lights to the eyes. In the example above, photo assistants were holding the diffusion and reflection panels in place but this can also be done with stands and clamps.

Fix Ugly Backgrounds with Bokeh

When shooting portraits in a public location like a city park or sidewalk, the background can be very busy and look messy in the final image. Using a shallow depth-of-field for selective focus can do wonders for drawing the viewer’s eye to your subject and helping them stand out from the background. Wide open f-stops like f2, f. 28 and even f4 will turn random clutter into a beautiful bokeh effect.

I hope that these techniques will inspire you to get outdoors and capture some great on-location portraits. Working in the elements can be difficult but without challenges we would never improve our craft. So let’s get out there and practice!

Born and raised on the West Coast, Laura Tillinghast began making art at a young age. She explored many mediums until finally discovering photography when she was 17 years old. From that point on, she knew she had found the tool she was looking for to bring her imagination to life. Shooting primarily advertising and editorial content, you never know what you will find in front of Laura's lens. Whether it is a gorgeous model, a rock band or a bowl of oatmeal, she shoots with the same goal in mind; make it beautiful. See more of Laura’s work at her website:

Laura is hosting an event, check it out:
On-Location Portraits, Part 2
Date: Saturday, August 26th
Time: 1-4pm
Location: Canon Live Learning, 201 California St., Suite 100, San Francisco, CA 94111
Cost: $30