Brooks Pro Tip: How to Light Portraits in Travel Photography

February 26, 2013

With the recent advancements in digital cameras, creating striking travel photography has become easier. Creating strong environmental portraits of people we meet while traveling, however, is just as challenging as ever.

I found this apple farmer, with his red apple stand, on a back road in California. A rainstorm had just passed through and I could have posed him facing the sun. The scene would have provided too much contrast, however, and the subject would have had to squint, looking into the sun. I needed another approach.

Instead of front-lighting him, I placed the sun behind the farmer, backlighting the entire scene. Backlighting cures a lot of problems when shooting in harsh sunlight. The shadow side of everything in the scene is the same exposure, eliminating many of the contrast issues. This lighting also creates a rim of light around everything, separating subjects from the background, and with no direct sunlight in the model’s eyes, it’s easier to get a relaxed expression. No more squinting.

And then, to add a little more warmth to the farmer’s face, I bounced some sunlight in under his straw hat with a gold reflector and added a little light to the “Fresh Apples” sign and front of the stand with a silver reflector. (I hang a couple folded reflectors off the corner of my camera bag and carry them with me all the time. They are very light and can make a great difference in lighting people, food, folk art-lots of things.)

The only thing left to do was getting the right expression from my farmer. I had him take a big bite out of one of his apples and I had the shot I had envisaged.

Done deal.

travel photography lighting

Chuck Place is a faculty member in the Professional Photography program at Brooks Institute. See more of his work at