Image Credit: Dale Travers

On almost any commercial photography shoot, portable lighting is a must – even more so when it’s on location outdoors. 

But outdoor flash isn’t just a technical necessity. It’s often a creative one, too, enabling your—and your client’s—vision to become reality.

Professional photographer and videographer Dale Travers (@daletravers) has specialised in commercial advertising for more than a decade, working primarily with sports brands and personalities across Australia.

Here Dale takes us behind five of his outdoor shoots, sharing how he captured each shot and why. Check out his outdoor photography lighting tips, techniques, equipment and setups below.

Image Credit: Dale Travers

1. Storytelling

Studio lighting allows the photographer to highlight important aspects of an image, drawing the viewer’s eyes to the story the photographer is telling. 

In this photo, Sam the rollerblader entered my frame from the right using the small concrete bank to grind the rail and exited to the left. I need to tell that story with light. 

Setting up a flash to the far right and left of camera tell the story of the path of the skater. These in turn lit up the rail he was grinding and a third flash to the left of camera (but closer) highlighted the skater himself.

With three lights, I was able to tell the story of the journey of the skater and the trick he was performing. Without light, no story.

 

Camera & Lighting Gear Used

Settings 

f2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO 400

 

Lighting Setup

  • 1 flash far right of camera
  • 2nd flash far left of camera
  • 3rd flash overhead, left of camera

Challenges Overcome 

Because I used only flash to create this image, I had to pre-focus and set the flashes’ power before shooting. 

The skater also needed room to perform the trick without knocking over my flashes or landing on me, who was situated underneath him. A fisheye lens allows the viewer to be very ‘in the action’ of the frame but requires the photographer to be almost underneath the skater to create drama and show the skater’s journey.

Tips

When working with fast-paced action images at night, a lot of light is absolutely necessary. The direction of the light is just as important as the power of the light in telling the story and drawing the viewer’s attention to what their eye needs to be attracted to.

Image Credit: Dale Travers

2. Highlight Your Subject

Light allows the photographer to draw the viewer’s eye to main subject of the photo. I used a flash to light the runner. With no flash, the runner would not have the luminance value and not draw the eye of the viewer.

Camera & Lighting Gear Used

 

Settings

f4.5, 1/250 sec, ISO 800

 

Lighting Setup

  • I had an assistant standing on the road with a flash to light up the runner.

Challenges Overcome 

I needed to tell the story and show the journey of a runner in this great location. I climbed up the mountain to obtain a high angle to create a leading line of the road through the frame. 

 

I wanted a good strong running pose to communicate power and amplitude. This meant I had to direct the runner to run a few times past the same location to capture the correct running style I wanted.

 

Tips

Use natural light as much as possible. We lost all the light when a storm rolled in, which added drama. But without a flash, there was no other way to highlight the subject. 

When using flash in nature, try and replicate the natural surroundings with subtle flash and not over-power the scene with artificial light sources unless the art direction dictates it.

Image Credit: Dale Travers

3. Add Production Value

Commercial advertising photography requires light to create a marketable scene. I used up to 6 lights on this image to sell the spa and capture a scene people could aspire to create in their own backyard. I used light to highlight the plants, roof, the parcel shelf on the spa, and the spa itself.

 

Camera & Lighting Gear Used

 

Settings 

f10, 1/125 sec, ISO 400

 

Lighting Setup

  • Key light was placed on a boom directly over the spa to replicate the downlights of the structure and highlight the product as the hero of the frame.
  • Several lights were placed around the structure to set the scene and light the plants, roof, sides of the spa, and pillars.
  • An assistant floated around using light to illuminate different parts of the scene. These shots were then composited in Photoshop in multiple exposures, creating subtle yet important highlighted areas.

Challenges Overcome 

With multiple surfaces to light, it’s almost impossible to light everything in one frame. Using an assistant to float and light different assets was crucial to creating this scene.

 

To get the correct framing, I used a ladder to get enough height to see into the spa and show the scene symmetrically.

 

Tips

Always use a tripod or lock your camera off when layering a scene with multiple exposures. Any movement in the camera will result in more post-production and possible failure in the final result.

When lighting a complex scene such as this, start with one light then start building your scene, bringing in more lights and setting your power for each light independently.

Image Credit: Dale Travers

4. Add Drama

To create drama, you need light and shadows. Using flash outside allows the photographer to tell the story of a product and create drama, making the photo unique and eye-catching.

Camera & Lighting Gear Used

 

Settings 

f4.5, 1/125 sec, ISO 400

 

Lighting Setup

  • 1 x flash on camera left and right (behind subject) to create rim lighting
  • 1 x key light high and left of subject

 

Posing 

We needed to show the highlights of the jacket and detail on the back. Posing the rider facing away from camera also created that hero pose, adding drama and attitude.

Challenges Overcome

Finding a clean location that matched the art direction was difficult. Luckily, open-air rooftop carparks are great for this. 

We also used sandbags for all light stands in case the wind picked up.

With the light constantly changing as clouds rolled past, it was amazing to have the power from the flashes able to keep my lighting constant on the model as the perfect gold light came in for a moody background.

Tips

With all external lighting set-ups, always use sandbags because your flash won’t survive a hit to the concrete.  

Always location scout with an app that tracks the sun so you know where the sun will be at the exact time of day so you get the result you want. I use Sunseeker and it’s never failed. 

Always check a weather app before booking in a shoot on location. It is the photographer’s responsibility to produce the product a client needs. You never want to have that discussion with a client because you didn’t check the forecast.

Image Credit: Dale Travers

5. To Create and Inspire

Using flash outside allows the photographer to create an image that was not previously there – a new and exciting frame that was not possible without the introduction of flash. It creates interest and inspires. It begs the viewer to linger and dissect and engage longer with the image. This is one of the main reasons why I became a photographer.

Camera & Lighting Gear Used

Settings 

f4.5, 1/250 sec, ISO 400

Lighting Setup

  • 1 x flash on camera right to highlight subject

Posing 

It took a few takes to get the nice strong running pose that I wanted to portray strength, power and performance for the product.

 

Challenges Overcome

Shutter speed used to be a huge factor in regards to shooting athletes. To freeze action you need to be shooting faster than 1/500th of a second and most flashes only sync at 1/250th of a second, so you need more light. 

 

With the new Profoto lighting line any shutter speed is available, which is an incredible step forward for me. I can now run any shutter speed to freeze action.

 

Tips

Work with your model to get the correct pose. Let them know you won’t get it first time and it will take a few tries, but they will be happy with the result.