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Article: How to Shoot a FAKE Sunny Outdoor Portrait... INDOORS!

How to Shoot a FAKE Sunny Outdoor Portrait... INDOORS!

Natural light is fantastic to shoot with, but the problem with shooting exclusively with natural light is that you’re limited to daylight hours. If you take the time to learn how to light with artificial light, you’ll never be limited again. You’ll be able to walk into any situation or receive any concept without fear because you’ll know how to make great images regardless of the environment or lack of natural light. Once you learn how to light, you’ll be able to shoot at any time, indoors or out, day or night. 

In this video, Chicago-based portrait photographer, Manny Ortiz, shows us how to fake a sunny outdoor portrait – indoors at his photo studio – using an Aputure Light Storm 600d LED light, a Westcott Optical Spot, and a V-Flat as the primary backdrop… plus a few other tricks to make the scene believable as a sunny outdoor portrait.

Creating the Scene for a Sunlit Outdoor Portrait… Shot Indoors

“The most important part of trying to recreate an outdoor shot is getting the lighting right,” Manny says. “And when you’re outdoors, that sun is a harsh light source. So you’re gonna wanna use a flash or an LED without a light modifier… you want those really harsh shadows.”

First, he uses blue roll of seamless paper as the backdrop to give the impression of a blue sky. He then places a white V-Flat in front of the blue background with the model, Laura, standing close to the V-Flat. To add to the idea that the image is taken outside, Manny tapes textured wallpaper to the V-Flat to get the look of an outdoor wall.

“When you’re shooting outdoors, you’re rarely gonna come across a wall that’s perfectly smooth.” And that’s why he adds the textured paper to the V-Flat. Don’t forget about the details. Use whatever you can to sell the scene and make it believable as an outdoor portrait with real sunlight. “It’s the little things,” Manny says.

You can see the texture on the V-Flat in the image below. It does make a difference.

Then, he sets up a second light, the Amaran 200d LED, to shine through a fake plant (using it as a gobo to cast texture onto the blue “sky” background).

While he admits “You don’t see shadows in the sky...  the purpose of that was to create branches in the background like the branches of the tree, but it’s more of a creative thing. I just wanted to add more texture to the background. I just didn’t want it to just be blue.”

He also alternates between the blue backdrop and a light brown paper backdrop to complement the earthy aesthetic of the golden-colored pampas grass that Laura is holding. (You can see from the images in this article that some photos have a blue background whereas others have a brown background.)

How to Use the Aputure 600d LED and an Optical Spot in Studio to Create the Look of Late Afternoon Sun

The Aputure 600d LED is the most powerful light in Manny’s studio. Having the Westcott Optical Spot attached to the front of the LED kills a lot of the light output, but at 600 watts, the Aputure still has plenty of light to work with.

The benefit of using continuous lights like the Aputure 600d is that you can see what the light is doing as you move it around on set. Manny says, “You can see everything happen in real-time. You can see the lighting. So if you make an adjustment with the light you can see everything happen in front of you.” This makes it easy to mold and craft the light to get an image convincing enough to pass as an outdoor photo taken with the setting sun.

“Lighting is a game of inches,” Manny says. “Every inch matters with lighting. So that’s why [with] LEDs there’s an advantage there.”

So why use the Optical Spot? What’s the purpose of it? Manny says the Westcott Optical Spot is actually “one of my favorite lighting tools on the planet.” And for good reason. This particular tool is a modifier that gives you more creative control over light than any other modifier. Because the Westcott Optical Spot comes with moveable leaves, it allows you to flag the light directly within the modifier in order to fine-tune slivers of light.

This fine-tuning within the optical spot is how Manny is able to create the look of late afternoon sun with a dramatic diagonal shadow line. “It’s recreating that setting sun where a ledge is casting a shadow, creating that nice slit. For me, that sells the outdoor look so much.”

If you don’t have access to an optical spot, you could use a light with a reflector attached and a black board to flag the light in order to create a dramatic line like the one seen below.

To further recreate the look of sunlight, it’s important to place the main light at an elevated position so it can imitate the position of the sun. When you place the light up high, it’ll often drop the model’s shadow closer to the floor and off the backdrop. But in the case of Manny’s shoot, Laura is placed really close to the backdrop (which also affects backdrop shadows) and the light is placed just high enough to maintain Laura’s shadow on the V-Flat, an artistic choice by Manny. “Personally, I love using the shadow that someone casts as part of the composition because I see interest in that shadow. I don’t want to waste the shadow. That’s why I placed the light slightly off-centered so I can have her shadow on the other side, kind of filling in that empty space right next to her.”

He also shoots through some pampas grass “to add some foreground interest to the left side and also maybe sell the fact that we’re in a field of pampas grass.” Definitely a creative trick and another way to build upon the outdoor look of the scene.

In post, the final images go through what Manny calls his “secret sauce;” his collection of golden hour presets. Here’s a glimpse of what he got. The light looks pretty convincing as golden, late afternoon sunlight.

Thanks for showing us how to create a sunny portrait indoors, Manny! We learned a lot.

And to our readers: Now it’s your turn to create a convincing outdoor portrait that’s actually shot completely indoors!


Camera: Sony A1

Lens: Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM

Background: Foldable V-Flat

Lighting: Aputure 600d, Amaran 200d, Optical Spot

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Photographer: Manny Ortiz, 


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