outdoor vs Studio

Lighting: Outdoor vs. Studio

As a photographer, you have a multitude of factors to consider when picking the right lighting conditions for your shoot. Your subject, theme, desired effect, and practical capabilities all influence whether it’s best to head outdoors or stick to the studio.

In this post, we give a quick review of the main considerations regarding both outdoor and studio lighting, discussing their pros, cons, and best applications.

Outdoor Lighting

No Lighting Equipment Necessary

One of the big draws of the outdoors is the fact that you can get away with having no lighting equipment at all. This is an especially big perk for beginning photographers who have yet to build up a professional lighting kit.

While incredible results can be achieved relying on the natural light alone, it’s also possible to enhance the lighting conditions by using your camera’s flash, or even a simple reflector that can be carried to the shoot location. These minimal tools can make a big difference when it comes to eliminating harsh shadows and putting the focus on your subject.


Depending on the scene you’re trying to create, outdoor lighting can offer the highest level of authenticity. Natural conditions yield a more natural look, which may be exactly what you need if you’re trying to avoid an overly engineered aesthetic.

A more artificial feel might be perfect for product images or advertisements, but the subtlety of outdoor lighting can better accommodate the intimacy of portrait, wedding, and some editorial photography.

Tight Timeframes

The continuously-changing position of the sun means that you can’t count on outdoor lighting conditions to remain the same for long. This is especially true for the “Golden Hour” – the immediate period after sunrise or sunset. Although the light at this time is the most coveted for its ruddy, romantic tones, it passes rapidly. It’s easy to lose that lighting within just a few minutes.

When you time your photoshoot right, you can harness a perfectly soft ambient light that would take a great deal of equipment to achieve in a studio. However, poor timing can leave you with overly harsh lighting (ex: high noon shadows or post-sunset darkness).

If you’re opting to shoot outdoors, you’ll need to be mindful of such time windows and plan accordingly. You must schedule your shoot to catch the sun in the ideal position, and you’ll need to make sure you can navigate the location, add props, or perform wardrobe changes quickly.

Overexposure Problems

With outdoor lighting, it’s a fairly common occurrence to end up with overexposed images. Whether this happens to your subject or the background depends on the specific conditions. Harsh sunlight hitting your subject directly is bound to cause overexposure there, but sunlight hitting the background while your subject is in the shade will also yield an imbalance.

You can prevent overexposure by carefully calibrating your camera’s exposure settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The exact settings for these factors will vary depending on the lighting at your location, so you may have to experiment a bit before you get a feel for what works in different situations.

Of course, it’s also recommended to simply avoid conditions where overexposure is likely. This is another point for proper timing.

Studio Lighting


There’s no arguing that studio lighting has the best consistency. Since you’re relying on artificial light sources that don’t change without your modification, you can count on studio lighting conditions to remain the same for as long as you need.

This removes the stress of working within the time constraints of natural light. You are free to work at your own pace. Creativity can flourish without the pressure of time, giving you the liberty to experiment and spend extra time on impromptu ideas.

If you’re a photographer who doesn’t like being stuck in constant setting adjustments, the consistency of studio lighting is a big benefit. You can calibrate your camera at the beginning of the shoot, then focus solely on framing your shots and following your inspiration.


There’s no lighting more flexible than what’s in the studio. Since you’re using a collection of equipment, you’re free to adjust those tools at any time to get the effect you need. You don’t have to wait for anything to get the exact conditions you’re looking for.

Within a short period of time, you have the ability to explore far more lighting configurations than would be possible in most natural settings. This efficiency is a major perk for any photographer with a busy schedule.

Crisp Commercial Aesthetic

It’s typically in the studio that you can achieve images that have that perfect “commercial” look. Characterized by a crispness and clarity that puts all focus on the subject, this style is usually only achievable by using the enhanced lighting created by equipment.

Certain editorial visuals are also characterized by this look, especially in fashion photography. Studio lighting allows you to create punchy, bold imagery fit for billboards and magazines.

Combining Outdoor & Studio Lighting

There are no rules stating that you have to choose between outdoor or studio lighting. In fact, many photographers utilize both, bringing lighting equipment directly to an outdoor location.

This allows them to augment the natural lighting conditions with extra illumination, often resulting in dramatic images where the subject stands out against their natural background. It’s particularly common to see this pairing in low-light settings, where the depth of a darker sky is used as a point of contrast.

Professional Studio Rentals in Sarasota, FL

If you’re seeking the benefits of studio lighting but don’t have your own space or equipment, Vivid Studios has you covered. We offer a fully-equipped 900 sq. ft. studio for rent, available for full-day or half-day reservations.

The studio comes with a 260 sq ft, 20′ x 13′ white cyc background, Godox SK400 1000W studio lights, a snoot, and multiple softboxes, reflectors, barn doors, scrim gels, and gobos. A variety of other accessories are included as well, such as tripods, extra light stands, and extension cords.

We provide everything you need for a successful studio session. Make your reservation today, or call us at (941) 896-5219 to arrange a free studio tour.

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