How to Use Strip Lighting for Outdoor Portraits

Using strobes outside is one way to create drama in your photographs. By adding artificial light to your scene, you can include a background that utilizes ambient light without sacrificing the quality of light on your subject. But sometimes it’s difficult to determine how exactly to light your subject to get specific results. Joe McNally provides a quick demonstration of how he used strip lighting for a Clint Eastwood-inspired outdoor portrait:

For this portrait setup, McNally used only two lights to rim the subject against the sky in the background. The lights, two Elinchrom strip light banks, were tall and narrow, each measuring 13 inches wide by 68 inches tall. Inside the softboxes, which were mounted on C-stands, were 400W flash heads with one battery pack per head.


The strip lights were placed on either side of the model to create a rim around his face and cowboy hat while still lighting up the gun in his hand. With a long lens, McNally shot the portrait at a focal length of 130mm, a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second, an aperture of f/10, and an ISO of 100.


The resulting image, meant to mimic the Unforgiven movie poster, features a soft edge light that fades in an appealing way.


Strip lights produce a distinct quality of narrow, even lighting that works well to highlight and flatter the human form. Practice McNally’s simple strip lighting technique in your outdoor portraits to set your subject off from the background.

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One response to “How to Use Strip Lighting for Outdoor Portraits”

  1. Golfzilla says:

    Nice idea, but like many such flash shots, the light is a daylight color and the scene is obviously not during daylight. Doesn’t work for me.

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