Lighting Tips for Family Photography

All Things Photography

Lighting tips are the most asked for advice when it comes to outdoor family photography sessions and how to handle the array of lighting conditions.

With sessions booked potentially months in advance (and living in the UK!) the weather and therefore the light is about as unpredictable as it gets.  

Knowing how to asses and look for the ‘good’ light in any situation is key to nailing outdoor family photography and creating beautiful imagery for your clients whatever you’re faced with.

The Good Light

You don’t have much (any!) control over the weather but you can plan to shoot when the light is best i.e. Golden Hour.  This obviously varies throughout the year as the days lengthen or shorten, sunrise and sunset times change constantly and can be affected by the weather on the day, so being a little flexible with your times can help. Shooting at either end of the day gives you the best advantage, the good light, with the sun lower in the sky it avoids casting dark shadows on faces which occur if you shoot during the middle of the day.

Lighting Tips for Backlighting

When working with a beautiful glowing sunset, the light is glorious but before it slides over the horizon it can still be dazzlingly bright.  Try moving so there are trees between the sun and your subjects so the bright sunlight is diffused through the leaves. Place your subject so the sunlight is not directly behind them but off to one side so you get shiny backlighting without obliterating their faces and losing control of your focus.  If you use autofocus on your lenses, your camera may struggle to focus on your subjects with too much light directed into it.

  • Try decreasing your exposure in camera so you preserve the highlights as much as possible.  This is where knowing your camera well comes in handy so you understand how it performs in high and low light situations. Underexposing too much may result in grainy images, overexposing risks losing precious detail permanently.
  • Shoot in RAW as this gives you the greatest editing power
  • Let the sun shine through hair and fabric for dreamy ethereal images
  • Set your camera to spot metering so that your camera meters the light where your subject is rather than the whole scene

Look for Shade

Open shade is the most versatile kind of light and great to use when the sun is a little higher in the sky.  Find a patch of shade and position your subject at the front of the shady area so the ambient light bounces on to their faces.

  • Use sunlight diffused through trees for a pretty effect but take care to watch for light ‘hotspots’ on faces that will be distracting in your image

Lighting Tips for Overcast Days

Overcast days can give you moody skies and a freedom to shoot out in the open that you won’t find on bright sunny days.  The cloud acts as a natural diffuser creating a more even, softer light.  Sometimes it can feel like the light has no direction so if you’re not sure, hold your hands in front of you, apart, with palms facing each other.  Which is the lightest?  This helps you ascertain the direction of the light so you can ask your subject to turn towards the light.

  • Underexpose slightly to preserve the detail of moody skies for drama
  • Stand back and capture more landscape to tell a story
  • Get in close for softly lit emotional portraits

Mist and fog can also be brilliant for creating stunning images full of atmosphere and beautiful soft lighting. Again, figure out where the light is coming from and always keep the focus of your shoot facing the light to make editing a dream.

father and daughter playing in fog

Are you a photographer? Would you like to learn more about the business of family photography? Find out more here.


  1. Bill

    Hey Jojo – SOOOO inspired by your ALLL work.
    What camera do you use?

    • jojo

      Thank you so much! I use two Canon camera’s, a 5D Mk3 and a5D Mk4 with 50mm and 35mm lenses.


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