Campus Candids Lighting

Published on July 12, 2017

The goal with outdoor lighting is to get as close to studio lighting look as possible.

  • Typically we will use a strobe for the main light, ambient light for the fill, and the sun for our separation light.
  • You can add other lights as needed, but this requires additional batteries or power source for strobes.


campus candids set up and image

Strobe with NDF Set Up:  Campus Candids Set Up3

Natural Light Set Up:  Campus Candids Set Up

Watch Video:  Campus Candids Set Up2

Campus Candids Start formula

  1. Camera settings
  • Shutter speed – 1/160 (if you see black banding across your image, your shutter speed it too high. (the 6D will only sync at 1/160th of a second, any faster and you will have black banding).
  • Aperture – f4. Remember this is good for one subject, unless their eyes are on the same plane to the camera.
  • ISO 400.
  • Using NDF (Neutral Density Filter) Aperture: F4 to F8 depending on how bright the background is.   You’ll want a larger number (smaller aperture) the brighter the background is.
  • Focal Length – 130 – 200. The longer the focal length, the shallower depth of field. (Also the closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth of field).
  • File Size (Medium Raw)
  • White Balance – Custom
  • Single Point Auto Focus Selection (Focus on eye closest to camera– then re-compose in camera if needed)
  1. Baseline strobe setup
  • Main Light 5 feet from subject – (Remember the unicorn)
  • 1/16 power (not using NDF).
  • 1/4th   power (using NDF).
  • Make sure modeling light is OFF!!!!!!! This will drain your battery, quickly.
  • Place natural light or sun to the back of subject if possible.


Using a Neutral Density Filter (NDF)

A very useful tool for outside sessions is the Neutral Density Filter.  A neutral density (ND) filter reduces the amount of light entering the camera.  It’s like sunglasses for your lens.  So most often we have a blown-out background, we use a NDF combined with strobe lighting.  Use this tool to balance the background exposure with the subject.  This is also very useful when you need to have a shallower depth of field (the background is very distracting).

The image below is beautifully exposed for the subject, but the background is blown out and unacceptable!  The dynamic range of the camera can not capture the brightest spots of the image and the darkest ones too.

To fix this, we have to set our camera where the exposure on the background is closer to the subject.

  • So the background needs to be about f16 (full sun)
    • We know this because the Sunny 16 Rule says… On a sunny day: ISO 100,  f/16 and 1/125 second a sun drenched background would be properly exposed.
  • So we move our aperture to F16 (from the start of F4- that’s 4 stops!) and we take a photo… the background is perfect (but our subject is WAY too dark)… so we have to crank the power way up on the strobe to make the proper exposure at F16.
    • BUT YIKES… the strobe takes forever to recharge… and the kids feel like they are struck by lighting every time you take a photo… and your battery would last about an hour!
  • SOLUTION…. Add NDF… Neutral Density Filter.  We use a .9 or a 3 stop filter.
    • Remember the stop number are…. 1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32
    • So if the NDF brings the exposure down by 3 stops- we can now photograph that sunny background from F16 to 5.6 or 4.0 (if we tweak ISO to be a little more sensitive)
    • So now we don’t need as much strobe (we need more than without the NDF from 1/16 to 1/4th power at about 5 feet)
  • Second Photo… with NDF!
  • bright background web   background managed w ndf


 REMEMBER:  Watch the power on your external battery if you are using it to power your strobe.   Using a NDF will require you to use more power from your battery.  Plan accordingly.  NEVER USE MODELING LIGHTS ON YOUR STROBE!  THIS WILL DRAIN YOUR BATTERY QUICKLY!


Checking Exposure with Light Meter or White Balance Target

  1. Meter with Light Meter. Similar to the way we use a light meter in the studio, we still set the light meter on “f” or flash.   When using the flash, your shutter speed is usually set to 160.
  1. Check exposure with white balance target. Photograph your white balance target (fill your exposure with the whole target.  A totally grey target should show the histogram in the very middle.  A white/grey/black should show a spike in each of the quadrants of the histogram.


IMPORTANT:  Use single point auto-focus!  We typically photograph with a shallow depth of field (F4) for campus candids.  You should select your focus point to be the child’s closest eye (using single point auto-focus).  If you use multi-point auto focus, your camera is likely to focus on a shoulder or other object that is closer than the eye, and the subject will be out of focus.



  1. Flat Lighting –  Your Light is positioned incorrectly (usually directly in front of subject).  (Remember to photograph into the shadow side for short light.)
  2. Light not firing when you use remote strobe transmitter– Transmitter/Receiver on different channels. Transmitter could need new battery.
  3. Hair or fill light not firing. Slave sensor not sensing the flash.  Re-position lights,  cord them, or use additional receiver.
  4. Black band on your images.  Shutter speed too fast.  Canon 6D syncs at 1/160th of a second, if any faster, a black band will occur on your images.
  5. Does your image look too “flash-y”… you need more ambient light, increase your ISO and decrease your strobe power.
  6. Background too dark –  to let in more ambient light you can decrease the shutter speed and “Drag the Shutter” set shutter speed no slower than 1/60th.  The strobe will expose your subject- if the shutter speed is slower than the flash, the aperture will let in more light in the background.  Careful that your subject does not show movement with this technique.
  7. Eyes not in focus – make sure you are using single point AF mode.  Focus on eye closest to camera, then re-compose in camera.  Make sure shutter speed 1/160.  Make sure not to jerk camera from your face quickly when exposing (follow through).


Sometimes you have to do what you have to do!  There was a hard light coming across this sweet boys back from the slats in the fence…  So the photogapher covered the fence with a blanket to stop the stray streak of light… then the sun peaked over the fence… so they used a white balance target go shade his head!

  •   Janie campus candids shading kid w white balance filter   11999094_10206174589816507_7446128252174737782_n