Design, Photography, & Fashion

On Location: Portraits and Natural Light

Jimmy Chin

Lesson time 10:14 min

The photoshoot continues as Jimmy leads you through an outdoor portrait session with Conrad and teaches you how he thinks about using natural light.

Jimmy Chin
Teaches Adventure Photography
National Geographic photographer teaches his techniques for planning, capturing, and editing breathtaking photos.
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JIMMY CHIN: Shooting outdoors means that you're shooting in natural light. You can bring lights. But in general, when I'm out in the mountains, moving around, climbing, or what have you, I'm not carrying a set of lights. So you're really working with natural light. You're really working with the sun. When you have a shoot in mind and you know where the location is, you know, the first thing you probably want to understand is, when is sunrise, when it's sunset? Go ahead, Conrad. The best light is always early in the morning or late in the evening as the sun is setting. For instance, if you're in the mountains, the different ridge lines, it gives contrasts and shadows and really kind of pops shapes. That's good, Conrad. Maybe not a big lean. There you go. Can you switch hands? - Yeah. JIMMY CHIN: Midday sun is tough shooting conditions. You know, it's top-down light. It's really harsh. There's weird shadows. OK, good. This is standing there. It can really flatten the look of a landscape. So you're really aiming to shoot early in the morning or in the evening. Definitely looking for that golden light, that beautiful soft light at sunrise and sunset. OK, I'm going to move way back, if that's possible. Light is really everything. And if you can't control it, you really have to be able to anticipate it and know what you want from it. What direction is the light coming from? Yeah, Conrad, you can coil again. - Same hand or other hand? JIMMY CHIN: Other hand's fine. Do you want the subject frontlit, or do you want the subject backlit, or do you want the subject sidelit? Maybe go up right. Walk up a little. And those are things that you should be thinking about and being intentional about in your decisions of what you're shooting and when you're shooting. Oftentimes, no matter how much homework you do and how much anticipation and time you spend thinking about the light and where it's going to be and what it's going to do, you don't get the light. That's when you have to pivot, and you have to think about, OK, well, what is the best thing that I can do with this light? We're just scrambling for that last light. But now that it's gone, I think we should go up high. And we'll just get a bigger wide shot. OK. I think maybe let's start off with some-- your face. - I'm coiling rope. Oh, yeah. I mean, when you have the big jobs that need to sell chewing gum and insurance premiums, coiling rope is where you go. - So this is a classic scenario, where we were trying to do a few different scenarios. We lost the light a little bit earlier than we anticipated, only because we were more focused on getting a couple of shots that we wanted on the climb. The backlit light left. So we kind of have to work with what we have. Right now, it's really nice soft light, and really saturated. So instead of kind of pulling back for the big, wide shots, we're really going to focus a little bit more on portraits. This i...

Push the limits of your photography

Jimmy Chin has built his career taking photos at the top of the world, earning him the cover of National Geographic and multiple awards. Now he’s taking you on location to teach you techniques for capturing breathtaking shots. In his photography class, learn different creative approaches for commercial shoots, editorial spreads, and passion projects. Gather the gear—and the perspective—to bring your photography to new heights.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Inspiring class! Jimmy Chin was awesome! Learned so much

Amazingly well though out teaching. He has helped my passion for photography tremendously!

This class had the content that I craved after watching the Liebovitz class. The details were great, especially the post production stuff and also the processes that surround the shoot, not just the shoot itself. Great work, and thank you Jimmy Chin. I wrote down the words: "Commit. Figure it out".

Loved hearing more from Jimmy about his process but would have liked more footage of him from his expeditions / prior projects while he was giving the lessons


Peter S.

Pretty much all of these classes are completely Worthless. I came into the MasterClass with a lot of questions and expectations. Should I get a teleconverter lens? Tell me in your 20 classes many scenarios that you use different lenses. Tell me why this f-stop is preferable. What are the settings of your national geographic photos? What are ideal combinations of f-stop, Iso and aperture to get proper photos outside vs inside. Midday vs night time, etc. Jimmy Chin ends up talking about things like "you need to allow yourself to fail." Yea, no kidding, I already learn those lessons everyday in my own life and my own career. This is a waste of money. I literally learned more about photography from the first 5 minutes from ANY YOUTUBE VIDEO or from the first five minutes of any photography book or the first 5 minutes from taking a photography class. He just wastes your time telling you stories about when he was a kid, waiting tables, working for his mentors, how Conrad is his best friend, etc, etc, etc.

A fellow student

Nice, we all think that the sunny day is the perfect clime day, it is for you every day, but that doesnt mean that is for your photos too... i'm now encourage to take some shoots at some cloudy rain days

Jacob G.

When the light escapes it becomes softer and the colors become more saturated making it perfect for portraits. Never really thought if it like that which is eye opening!

Walter F.

Forgot to add: the PDF link is still not working. Also, for those who are interested in learning more about underexposing (or overexposing) on purpose, read up on the techniques ETTR/ETTL (expose to the right & expose to the left).

Walter F.

Great episode. And I finally know what camera he's using! I was wondering why he was moving back and forth slightly. Great tip, and I'll be using it from now on. It's tough nailing eye-focus when shooting wide open.

Carole A.

Too bad the photo examples did not specify ISO on each shot. Otherwise excellent production.

A fellow student

I always thought it was best practice to have more space in front of the subject so I found it interesting there were so many photos with the subject looking toward the end of the frame and the landscape to their back. Not that it is a hard and fast rule (obviously the professional photographer would know to do it right). It just always looks distracting to me with the subject looking away from the awesome scenery and instead looking at something else we can't see. Am I wrong on this? I needed that eye trick. So many photos where I thought it looked great only to get home and see a perfectly focused...forehead. I love the idea of playing with light! I need to take advantage of more of those alpine starts instead of only taking photos at the top.

A fellow student

Very helpful! I really learned a lot from your movement as well as underexposing his face and leaving that element for post-production. I thoroughly enjoy landscape shots, but I still struggle with portraits so this lesson was great!

A fellow student

Lots of great information and tips on portrait photos and natural light. I even noticed how you complimented Conrad to keep him at ease when shooting his photos. Can't wait to learn more! **The PDF link seems to be broken unfortunately** Hopefully someone sees this and can fix it. Thanks!

Jim C.

Good tip on the moving slightly back and forth to make sure eye is in focus. My eyes have always sucked so when autofocus came about it changed my life.