The Great Outdoors = Your FREE Studio

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: January 6, 2011

Category: General

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I’ve been shooting in the studio alot more over the past couple of months and that’s been great for a whole host of reasons; not least being the fact that despite the weather the shoot always goes ahead plus there’s the added comfort factor.

Now although I thoroughly enjoy shooting in the studio and working with what is in effect a blank canvas, where I really get a kick is shooting ‘on location’. Working outside on location though does bring with it, it’s own challenges and as any photographer knows it’s very much hit or miss whether the shoot actually goes ahead because of the weather. However, that being said there’s nothing I like more than scouting out a location and then changing the feel / mood of it by the use of location lighting. In fact talking of the weather, Advertising Photographer of the Year Tim Wallace would tell you to embrace the bad weather when it happens; turn it into a positive and use it to your advantage to create some really quite dramatic images.

So, for a recent portfolio shoot I decided to step out of the studio and go out on location but at the same time for one of the shots have a bit of a play and make the outdoors look as though I was still in the studio.

What do I mean?
The intention of the photo at the beginning of this post was to make our male model look as though he was standing on a stage with lights/flashes going off behind him but rather than being shot in the studio it was taken in the middle of the day in the car park of a local supermarket as the iPhone Photo below shows (note: by the time I took this ‘Behind the Scenes’ shot with my iPhone the male model had gone through a wardrobe change)…

So how was it done?
The principle behind
this shot was exactly the same as a technique I call the ‘Invisible Black Backdrop‘ where you use the camera to set the scene i.e. make the location completely black and then once you’ve done that, introduce some light into the scene to light your subject. (You can read a complete walk-through of the Invisible Black Backdrop technique by clicking on this link).

Part 1: Lighting the subject
The first part was to light our subject and knowing that in the final image I was going to be placing extra lights behind him, he would need to have a rim light hitting him which would give the impression that it came from those extra lights. Of course had I had a bag full of lights with me at the time then it’s likely I would have done this shot in one take but that would have required about 10 speedlights; and I only had half that amount with me.

Part 2: The Stage Lights/Flashes
To create the stage/flash lights I placed 3 speedlights on separate stands at varying heights and positions into the frame aimed back towards the camera and took a few shots with an aperture of around the f/11 mark; any wider and I wouldn’t have gotten the desired starbust look from the light, and this I did a couple of times…

Part 3: Putting it all together
Back  at the computer, having edited the first shot of our model it was then a simple case of placing the extra lights that I’d shot around him. To do this meant that I had to ‘extend the canvas’ of the photo of our model because each time I shoot a portrait using the Invisible Black Backdrop technique I always do it with the camera in portrait orientation and virtually fill the frame with the subject. To explain the how and why, here’s a short Photoshop tutorial I recorded last year:

So, there you have it…an image that looks like it was possibly shot in a studio but was taken in the great outdoors; a free studio offering endless creative possibilities.

If you have any questions or comments then as always please feel free to make use of the comments section below. Oh and just for extra proof that we were in a car park here’s a final shot of our model sitting in what could possibly be the transport of the future; or at least it could be if fuel prices keep going up the way they are 🙂

And here’s an iPhone photo showing the lighting set up which couldn’t have been simpler; a single Nikon Speedlight and Shoot-Thru umbrella…
Enjoy 🙂

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  1. DaveT

    Hi Glyn,

    Excellent. I really like these BTS posts, they are so informative and a real source of inspiration.

    It’s also the little detail, like the last iphone shot which shows you weighted the lighting stand and had a ground cover to lie on – love the result by the way.


    • Glyn

      @DaveT…Thanks for that mate; glad you find it useful 🙂

      Cheers, Glyn

  2. Paul Pride

    Hi Glyn,
    Again you have imparted your wisdom on us mere mortals! I do have to ask though what triggers you use as I would be hard pushed to eliminate all the ambient light with a sync of 1/125 unless I’m wrong!
    I am also loving the post production on the final shot, it suits the image perfectly. One last thing, were those birds conveniently there or a little added ‘magic’?

    • Glyn

      @Paul…For this shoot I used the Nikon SU-800 controller to trigger the flashes; uses line of sight so because of the distance I was shooting this was no problem. Working with the speedlights allows me to use the max sync speed of 1/250 sec and with an aperture of f/8.0 the envirnoment was rendered ‘black’. What lights are you using? If I was using my Elinchrom Quadra’s then the sync speed would be 1/160th so I may have had to close down the aperture to around the f/11.0 mark but because of the extra power the Quadra’s give me that wouldn’t have been an issue.

      Re the post…I can’t lie…the birds were added in 🙂


  3. Paul Pride

    Hi Glyn,
    At the moment I am using an SB-600 as I didn’t know that I would be progressing with my photography and using it off camera otherwise I would’ve bought an 800 or 900. As for triggers I use some pants eBay ones! Again I am only just starting out and really do not have the capital at the moment but am going to upgrade them at the end of the month. Until I can upgrade my kit I unfortunately have to adjust my shoots to match what I have.
    I have a couple of shoots coming up so I will let you know when they are done. I’d really appreciate your feedback!

    • Glyn

      @Paul…No worries mate; I look forward to seeing what you come up with.


  4. Heather Williams

    Thanks again for another amazing post. I do have a couple of questions the masta . . . since I am a super newby at this photo stuff I was wondering how you get the star effect in the lighting? Also, how did you get the dark skies in the shopping cart pic? Awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and talent.

    • Glyn

      @Heather…Thanks for checking out this post and for the kind words..

      With regards to the star effect, all you need to do is to shoot at an aperture of f/11.0 or narrower and that will do the trick.

      Re the dark skies…if you like I’ll put a short tutorial together to go through how it’s all done ‘in camera’

      Glyn 🙂

  5. David Kelly

    Thanks for another insight posting Glyn.

    The ‘stage’ image of Cameron reminds me of Zack’s output shot from the Gulf Photo + event last year with him, Dave Hobby & Joey L.

    I do think the birds in the trolley shot make that nice little finishing touch to the look & feel of the image, despite being a PS addition. As for the transport of the future, I’m sure Sir Clive Sinclair must already be looking into using this device as a revamped, longer wheel base, Monster Truck version of his C5 😉

    Best wishes,


    • Glyn

      @David…Re the trolley…Dragons Den here I come 🙂

  6. Heather

    A short tutorial would be super cool. Could you incude how you put the birds in also. Thanks again for being an amazing teacher. You should write a book!!

    • Glyn

      @Heather…Consider it done; I’ll have the tutorial ‘on line’ early next week 🙂
      With regards to adding the birds into the image, all I did was found some stock images of birds on the web using google and then dropped them into the picture using ‘blend modes’. The bird pictures I found had then all on a white background so using the ‘Multiply’ blend mode in Photoshop removed that with just one click. I recorded a video a while back now explaining the Screen and Multiply blend modes that you can find here or by visiting my YouTube page (

      Hope that helps,
      Glyn 🙂

      ps> Just checked out your blog; really nice work on there!

  7. Claudio von grubens

    Hi glyn,

    a great story and it is definitely true! i can comment that with another nice story: on Friday the light was really grant in Vienna so i decided to take a few shots of the sunset. as i arrived at a small hill with a really good view i saw that there is a lot of fog and the shots will be not what I’d expected! Everybody says that shooting is the most important because of the training so i sat on the ground near a wood thinking about what to do and after a few minutes i saw a lot of little “yellowhammers”. i took my zoom lens and got a few really nice shots of them. if i quited the session because of the fog i never would made these 😉

    so always make the best out of it! 😉

    BTW: the shots a very creative – i think changing the location helps your(and everybody’s) creativity!


    p.s.: for everybody who is interested in the shots:

    • Glyn

      @Claudio…Great comment and story mate; thanks for that.
      Thanks to for the link…great shots which like you say, if you hadn’t taken the time you wouldn’t have got them…nice one!



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