When photographing children, we’re never too far, one way or the other, from experiencing cooperation or temper tantrums. Because of this, it’s important to make the most of our time during family photography sessions. In this case study from our Lighting 101 workshop, we’ll share a quick lighting tip for capturing family portraits outside that will help you work quickly when photographing kids.

[Rewind: The 3-Light Setup That Only Requires One Light]

Video: On-Camera Lighting for Family Portraits Outside from Lighting 101

The Scenario


A quaint little session shooting family portraits outside in a park setting around mid-day. We started off well enough, but 20 minutes in, our little model took a tumble and hurt her wrist. After the fall, we struggled to settle her back into shooting-mode, and ultimately never did. As a result, the first 20 minutes proved crucial and yielded the only photos we took for the session.

The Problem


While location scouting for taking family portraits outside, we came across this patch of grass that was framed beautifully by hanging tree branches above, and decided to start our session there. If the subjects faced the sun, the direct sunlight would cast harsh shadows and strong highlights. Instead, we used the sun as a back-light. In doing so, we created a new issue with shadows. With the family’s back facing the sun, the ambient exposure of the scene became way too dark.

The Settings

Canon 5D Mark III Sigma Art 50mm f/1.2 at f/2, 1/200th of a second at ISO 50
Canon 5D Mark III Sigma Art 50mm f/1.2 at f/2, 1/200th of a second at ISO 50

When capturing family portraits outside, the goal rarely involves using dramatic lighting techniques. Instead, our goal usually involves capturing natural & candid behavior between the family. For this shot, we left the background a bit brighter with blown highlights to exaggerate the rich colors from the foliage and grass. Using the Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 at f/2, 1/200th of a second at ISO 50, we found ideal settings to match our quick flash photography technique.

The Solution: Bounce On-Camera Flash off a Reflector and onto the Family

One of our favorite quick flash photography tips when shooting family portraits outside in the shade requires using the white side of the reflector to bounce light onto the subjects. It allows us to preserve more details in the background. To do this, we simply place our flash on-camera and angle it toward the white reflector. We want to avoid any harsh highlights (say from the silver side of the reflector) and instead try to create a soft diffused & directional fill light. In an ideal lighting situation, you can get a fast recycle time using 1/4th or 1/8th power, but this will depend on your ambient light exposure.



We have a background light and just little rim light that’s coming in on the right side of the family. All we need to do is add in a Westcott 5-in-1, white over silver, to add a kick of light from the right side and fill in the shadows. At roughly 1/4th and 1/8th power, you can fire quickly every single time and get different reactions and poses, all within one scene, without worrying about recycle time.

For More Education

For more lighting education & case studies, check out our Lighting 101 workshop, which is part of our larger Flash Photography Training System. We also recently released Family Photography 101, which covers everything from communication to capturing family portraits outside and indoors. This course will teach you how to create family photos meant to be cherished for a lifetime.