Balancing the exposure of the natural backlighting & model

This natural light photography course will help you master a number of different techniques when using just natural light and your camera.

In this photography class Karl and the team stumble upon a great shooting location when out and about shooting. Using just a simple reflector and natural light Karl is able to get some stunning results. He explains how you have to think on your feet and adjust your settings as you shoot to compensate for the ever changing qualities of natural light.

With the right location and conditions, simple and affordable accessories can help you capture a magical shot, which you can clearly see in this class.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Portrait photography using natural light
  • How to use natural light for outdoor portraits
  • Affordable accessories for photography
  • How to use a reflector for outdoor portraiture
  • How to balance natural light
  • Creative composition for outdoor portrait photography

Note: This course is available with English subtitles.


  1. Hello Karl, I appreciate every work you produce.

    On this, something puzzles me, still. You’ve been shooting at 1/4000s to have details in the background. But now let’s say you had to darken a bit more, would the light reflected on the model be affected accordingly?

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi, yes she would. All of the light here is ‘ambient’ light only – that is the light is all natural light from the sun/sky/clouds and the light that is on the model’s face is from the reflector that is bouncing light back from the sun/sky/clouds. The only way to change the exposure level on the models face compared to the rest of the scene is to change the angle of the reflector to make it more effective or to move it closer. If everything was exaclty the same and we made the shutter speed (or aperture) create less exposure then we would also have less exposure on the model.

  2. Hello Karl,

    In the video I can see the sky is bright and washed out but in the amazing final photo, I can see nice clouds. Is that caused by the 1/4000 shutter speed ?


    1. Hi Dundy, the recording latitude of the stills camera shooting in RAW is greater than that of the video camera which means you can get more shadow and highlight detail from the image file. The video guy was also most of the time exposing for me presenting the video and I was dressed in dark clothes on the shadow side with no reflector on me which meant the video guy had to lift his exposure to get me correctly which meant he was actually mostly overexposed on the model which would have pushed his sky exposure over. See also some of our videos using graduated filters with flash for solving overexposed skies and models.

  3. Hi Karl, love the video and very interesting. I’ve taken some classes from lifestyle photographers that use a reflector and most of them never use the silver side and only use the white side. Is this a preference thing that you are trying to imitate studio-style lighting and they are trying to imitate natural reflection?

    1. Hi, no simply a physics thing. White doesn’t bounce as much light back as a correctly angled silver reflector. On a day with soft cloud like this one a white would be almost useless and a silver won’t bounce harsh light back because it is basically a mirror and will reflect an image of the soft cloud. On a clear day with backlit sun then a silver would bounce back the sun and can be too aggressive unless you angle it or use a rough silver. White is more effective on a brighter day but I still use silver most of the time out doors but I use white in the studio as there is no general ambient light from the sky so the noticeable effect of the white reflector in a studio is more apparent.

  4. In the video, I took note of the results of the photos against the gate; I think that they are some lovely shots. I am impress with the image quality, but am I missing something? At time stamp 6:50 – 7:05 (in the video), you did a comparison of two photos – one with the reflector and the other without the reflector. I have to ask; were the two pictures post production or were they the exact pictures as seen on the camera? The image quality seems very clean.

    1. Hi Nick, we generally don’t do a great deal in PS for shots like this, maybe tweak the colour and contrast a bit and that’s it.

  5. Hi Karl,
    Thanks a lot for great tutorials! You do an amazing job!
    2 quick questions:
    1. What about focus points? do you use single point and point it to the subject’s eye? specially when doing so many shots one after each other and subject is constantly moving the head…
    and 2nd. what about when subject is much taller than you? how you deal with that in outdoor? in most of my headshots (I shoot them with 100-400mm) they come out in kinda weird way, looking down to the camera… I’m 178cm, but many Americans as you know are pretty tall lol )))

  6. Hi Karl, can you treat the reflector as adding extra light like with a strobe/flash and have some control over the background ambient via shutter speed? I guess the effect is limited unlike studio lights and the reflector may only add shadow fill.
    I often use the camera meter to give a ball park figure then use my eyes or histogram to check highlights don’t blow out etc but I find my Nikon tends to underexpose using the “recommended” centre on the meter. Have you found that on any cameras you’ve used?
    I can often go 3-5 clicks in the overexposed zone, no overexposure in highlights, just in fact a brighter image which isn’t so flat. Seems I always have to Lightroom some shadow brightening or tonal contrast to make them pop?

    Its difficult in daylight trusting the LCD though.

    1. Hi Chris, no unfortunately not. Remember the reflector is reflecting only the ambient light in this shot so if we changed the shutter speed to reduce ambient light we would also reduce the light from the reflector. With flash that would not happen, the flash power would remain mostly the same.

  7. Also, in regards to my comment above, this looks so unnatural as you can see the shadow on the right side of her face (which is caused by the reflector) but you can clearly see the shadow is created bottom up, rather than top-down like you’d find from the sun. Please advise as I want to understand the correct way of doing this.

  8. Hey Karl,

    I was always taught that when using a reflector as your light source, you should always point the reflector from top-down rather than from below. Please advise.

    1. Hi Dominik, you should but I had no choice in this instance as Ben couldn’t get an angle from the light from above only from level with her.

  9. Actually let me ask that again because I know you could rescue some shadow detail, Karl even said that in the video. In the scene depicted in this video, could a Lightroom edit of an image without a reflector get close to the final image with reflector?

  10. If you don’t have an assistant to hold a reflector, can you use Lightroom to increase the exposure on certain areas of the image if your camera has good dynamic range?

  11. Hello Karl,

    This video was really helpful by explaining the importance of the reflector.
    I did not have any clue that equipment is that helpful.
    Many thanks! 🙂

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