On the list of possible locations for engagement photography sessions, shopping center parking lots probably don’t rank very high. However, when shooting in urban environments, you’ll sometimes need to get creative with available spaces, especially if you’re shooting with natural light. If you know what to look for, you can use natural light photography techniques that will allow you to create amazing portraits, even in a parking lot.

In this article, we’re going to share natural light photography techniques from our latest Engagement Photography 101 course to help you use existing light modifiers when capturing portraits in an urban location. The best part is, you won’t need an assistant or a bunch of lighting gear to get the shot.

Capture the Image with the CAMP Framework

We’ll use the CAMP framework (Composition, Ambient Exposure, Modify or Add Light, Pose & Photograph) to outline the steps we took to compose, light, and capture the final image. But first, let’s do some scouting.

Step 1. Scout for Existing Modifiers to Use for Natural Light Photography Techniques

Natural Light Photography Techniques Finding Perfect Light existing modifiers 01

Before we even think about composing our shot and dialing in our exposure, we need to scout our location for a suitable backdrop. To take advantage of natural light photography techniques, look for an existing light modifier in the scene, like the bright surface of a wall or building, that we can use to illuminate our subjects. While walking near a shopping center downtown, I noticed this white wall next to a parking lot and I knew it would reflect plenty of light onto the couple.

Step 2. Choose Composition that Accommodates Natural Light Photography Techniques

Natural Light Photography Techniques Finding Perfect Light BTS Composition

Once you’ve identified a location, you’ll need to compose your shot. It’s really no surprise, but parking lots offer unique challenges for concealing unwanted elements in the frame. As you can see in the image above, we have several cars lining the right side of the frame. In addition to using the wall to modify light as part of a natural light photography technique, I filled a large portion of the frame with it; the wall also served as a foreground element with leading lines.

You’ll notice, too, that I placed the larger, male subject to the right side of the frame to help block out the cars and minimize distractions. You can see the difference in the shots below.

Natural Light Photography Techniques Finding Perfect Light Before After Composition

[Related Reading: How to Shoot and Edit a Natural Light Long Exposure Portrait]

Step 3. Dial in Ambient Exposure

While it’s possible to take dramatic portraits using various natural light photography techniques (especially if you’re familiar with the dark mode editing technique), my goal here was to create a romantic, bright and airy portrait using an existing modifier on location. Because of the busy environment with lots of distracting elements around, I shot with wide-open aperture (f/1.4) for a shallow depth of field, which I could use to draw more focus to the couple. I wanted it bright, but I still wanted to maximize dynamic range. Going with a wide-open aperture also meant having to dial in a faster shutter speed (1/4000) and lower ISO (ISO 100). I recommend using your highlight alert and histogram to make sure you’re not clipping your highlights and shadows.

Step 4. Use the Existing Modifier to Enhance the Lighting

Natural Light Photography Techniques Finding Perfect Light Before After Light Modified

A quick glimpse at the before and after photos above reveal what a significant impact that our existing light modifier (the white wall) has as it reflects light onto the subjects. In urban environments, this is one of the easiest natural light photography techniques you can use.

Step 5. Direct Your Subjects and Capture the Shot

Natural Light Photography Techniques Finding Perfect Light Edited Direction for Posing
Edited with Visual Flow Presets > Pastels > Soft Light

Cue your subjects to get the expression you’re after, and then work the angles to capture medium and tight shots. For these photos, the cue was as simple as asking the male subject to whisper something sweet into the female subject’s ear, which ultimately made her giggle and resulted in a natural, authentic moment between them. Fun fact: I always ask my clients what they whispered, but they never tell me.

Natural Light Photography Techniques Finding Perfect Light Edited Direction for expressions
Edited with Visual Flow Presets > Pastels > Soft Light

I also recommend making micro-adjustments while posing your subjects so that you can capture more expressions and ultimately wind up with more deliverable images. For example, this can be something as simple as re-directing eye direction, hand placement, or action (kissing, etc.).

[Related Reading: 5 Things to Look for When Shooting Natural Light Portraits]


You don’t have to force a location like this to provide a backdrop for the majority of your images. If you see potential to use a worthwhile existing light modifier, get in and capture a couple of images, and then move on to the next spot.

I hope you found this natural light photography technique helpful for shooting engagement portraits in an urban environment. If you’re interested in learning more about how to photograph couples, don’t miss our Engagement Photography 101 workshop.