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Summer Portraiture: Practical Technique

SummerportraitIt’s now almost July, and just because the weather outside is frightfully bright (for those in the Northern Hemisphere) doesn’t mean that you have to cancel all of your portrait photography. But taking advantage of the clear skies doesn’t mean that you have to shoot in broad daylight either.

If you want the best light for summer portraits, arrange your shoots within the “golden hour”. Typically, this is during the hour right after dawn, or the hour right before dusk. At this time, the quality of light will be diffused and the angle of light will give definition to long shadows.

Realistically though, it’ll be a hard sell to convince your client to meet you, fully dressed and picture perfect by 6:00am. Where does that leave you?

Aside from the standard “shoot behind a building” or “underneath trees”, this technique will provide you with the ability to shoot portraits at anytime of day in the brightest of open sunshine.

All you need is a). An assistant; b) A 32″ diffusion gobo and; c). A 22″ reflector.

1. Have your assistant hold the gobo above your subject’s head (or wherever the sunlight is most direct) to block the light. This will provide a small shaded area in which your subject will stand (keep in mind that the larger the gobo, the larger the shaded area, and vice-verse).

2. Place your reflector in direct sunlight to best “reflect” the light onto your subject (use either the soft gold or white sides).

3. If you want a head shot, your assistant can hold the reflector directly beneath your subjects face, or close to the side. Otherwise for a full body shot, you will have to stand the reflector against a tripod further away.

This technique sound too simple? Trust me. It’s the perfect way to keep your portraits up and running all throughout the beautiful summer season.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://www.seimeffects.com Seim Effects

    Nice tips. It’s always good to have an arsenal of tricks on this stuff. Evening late and shade are great, but we all get the shoot sometimes where bright sun is the order of the day.

    With large groups it’s especially hard since a quick spot of shade, or a reflector is not big enough. I’ve made some presets that balance things out a bit, but direct sunlight still seems to be my worse image killer.

    Gavin Seim

  • http://www.gothcandy.com/ Alice Bevan–McGregor

    I’ve recently used the “shoot in the shadow of a building” technique. Worked quite well. :^)

    http://flickr.com/photos/gothcandy/2630685472/

  • http://www.radeldudel.de Sam

    This tip is so good, a company named california sunbounce even created a diffusor with long handle called ‘sun-swatter’ right for this use (though it can work as rain protector, too, I was told).

  • What’s In a Name

    “All you need is an assistant…”

    Couldn’t help but chuckle at that one. =)

    It sounds like a great technique, utilizing the standard portraiture lighting. If I can scrap up an assistant or two and then a 3 foot gobo (reflectors are much easier to improv with), then I might give this a shot, no pun intended.

  • http://www.newmediaphotographer.com Rosh

    This is not my favorite technique because the main light from the reflector is coming from the ground or below the subjects face. Light shooting up (scary lighting) is usually not the most flattering. Even a hint of it.

    A reflector or light from below is fine if you are equally counter acting light from above such as in glamour lighting. You can also use a silver reflector, tin foil or variation of to simulate water reflecting from below….

    I like the idea of blocking or defusing the sun, but I would then just meter the face. Using a low aperture will help to create a nice soft look such as in the photo above.

    The image above is very nice. These are just my preferences.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

  • http://lifetimevp.com bakari

    Can someone point out where to get a 32″ diffusion gobo? I looked up the web and didn’t find a place. This blog appears at the top of the search for the gobo.
    Thanks for the help.

  • johncalvin

    It seems that “diffusion gobo” would be a nice place for an in text link to amazon. I’m pretty interested in finding one as well.

  • http://flickr.com/bakari Bakari

    I checked Amazon, but it didn’t come as a product.

  • sanders

    Thanks for this article. I have a few questions though.

    Is it adviced to use a Flash?
    And what do you do if you don’t have an assistant?

  • http://www.selfupp.blogspot.com gopalshroti

    i like the technique. bur as asked above by sanders, i wud like to suggest that a small flashgun can be used to fill in the shadowed face. a most effective technique. if u have a big gun, cover it by white hanky as u rquire the light to brighten the face.

  • Austen

    All you need for a diffusion GoBo is some rip-stop nylon from your local fabric store and a frame.

    PVC Pipe is a good choice for a frame, or whatever you can find in your garage.

    If you can sew, simply sew a 100mm pocket all around the fabric, insert the pipe, cut to length and use four 90-degree joiners.

    If you cannot sew, while you’re at the hardware store getting the pipe, simply pick up some clamps to suit your pipe while you’re there !!

    Austen,
    Adelaide,
    South Australia.

  • Doug Miller

    The “gobo” mentioned is often productized as a diffusion panel. I use one from Lastolite that is triangular with a grip that I can often hold myself if I use a cable release or remote and it works great. Here is the B&H Photo link to the one I use: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/375570-REG/Lastolite_LL_LR3651_TriGrip_Diffuser_One_Stop.html

    I use this technique with my Lastolite a lot for midday people shots and even more for shooting macro and flowers in midday light to get nice even diffused light for those as well.

  • Jeremy

    Nice photo, I really like the contrast between the lighting on the subject’s face and the dark green background.

  • Steve

    I was just looking for the same thing you were, and came across an article that described a gobo as “anything that goes between your light source and your subject”. So it’s not something you HAVE to buy, you may be able to make one to suite your need(s).

  • http://www.newmediaphotographer.com Rosh

    I had to look it up and I’ve been doing this stuff for twenty years.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

  • http://flickr.com/bakari Bakari

    So basically a regular diffuser should suffice as a gobo? It would have nice if this article had included a behind the scene shot of the set up.

  • chudez

    sounds like an interesting technique. just a few questions:

    - i assume the color of the “GoBo” or diffusion panel will affect the final picture. what color do you use?
    - do you “correct” for the color of the panel or do you use it as part of the pic?
    - what white balance setting would you use in general?

  • ANA

    Hi Darren,
    I’ve been enjoying your tips a lot.
    I have an old Nikon D100 which i enjoy but would like to buy a second one, not so heavy but still good quality.. Any suggestions?
    Thnaks,
    Ana

Some older comments

  • ANA

    June 12, 2009 07:13 pm

    Hi Darren,
    I've been enjoying your tips a lot.
    I have an old Nikon D100 which i enjoy but would like to buy a second one, not so heavy but still good quality.. Any suggestions?
    Thnaks,
    Ana

  • chudez

    July 4, 2008 02:41 pm

    sounds like an interesting technique. just a few questions:

    - i assume the color of the "GoBo" or diffusion panel will affect the final picture. what color do you use?
    - do you "correct" for the color of the panel or do you use it as part of the pic?
    - what white balance setting would you use in general?

  • Bakari

    July 4, 2008 08:17 am

    So basically a regular diffuser should suffice as a gobo? It would have nice if this article had included a behind the scene shot of the set up.

  • Rosh

    July 4, 2008 05:09 am

    I had to look it up and I've been doing this stuff for twenty years.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

  • Steve

    July 4, 2008 02:16 am

    I was just looking for the same thing you were, and came across an article that described a gobo as "anything that goes between your light source and your subject". So it's not something you HAVE to buy, you may be able to make one to suite your need(s).

  • Jeremy

    July 4, 2008 01:35 am

    Nice photo, I really like the contrast between the lighting on the subject's face and the dark green background.

  • Doug Miller

    July 4, 2008 01:29 am

    The "gobo" mentioned is often productized as a diffusion panel. I use one from Lastolite that is triangular with a grip that I can often hold myself if I use a cable release or remote and it works great. Here is the B&H Photo link to the one I use: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/375570-REG/Lastolite_LL_LR3651_TriGrip_Diffuser_One_Stop.html

    I use this technique with my Lastolite a lot for midday people shots and even more for shooting macro and flowers in midday light to get nice even diffused light for those as well.

  • Austen

    July 3, 2008 11:53 pm

    All you need for a diffusion GoBo is some rip-stop nylon from your local fabric store and a frame.

    PVC Pipe is a good choice for a frame, or whatever you can find in your garage.

    If you can sew, simply sew a 100mm pocket all around the fabric, insert the pipe, cut to length and use four 90-degree joiners.

    If you cannot sew, while you're at the hardware store getting the pipe, simply pick up some clamps to suit your pipe while you're there !!

    Austen,
    Adelaide,
    South Australia.

  • gopalshroti

    July 3, 2008 11:49 pm

    i like the technique. bur as asked above by sanders, i wud like to suggest that a small flashgun can be used to fill in the shadowed face. a most effective technique. if u have a big gun, cover it by white hanky as u rquire the light to brighten the face.

  • sanders

    July 3, 2008 07:39 pm

    Thanks for this article. I have a few questions though.

    Is it adviced to use a Flash?
    And what do you do if you don't have an assistant?

  • Bakari

    July 3, 2008 02:10 pm

    I checked Amazon, but it didn't come as a product.

  • johncalvin

    July 3, 2008 11:08 am

    It seems that "diffusion gobo" would be a nice place for an in text link to amazon. I'm pretty interested in finding one as well.

  • bakari

    July 3, 2008 10:11 am

    Can someone point out where to get a 32″ diffusion gobo? I looked up the web and didn't find a place. This blog appears at the top of the search for the gobo.
    Thanks for the help.

  • Rosh

    July 3, 2008 03:24 am

    This is not my favorite technique because the main light from the reflector is coming from the ground or below the subjects face. Light shooting up (scary lighting) is usually not the most flattering. Even a hint of it.

    A reflector or light from below is fine if you are equally counter acting light from above such as in glamour lighting. You can also use a silver reflector, tin foil or variation of to simulate water reflecting from below....

    I like the idea of blocking or defusing the sun, but I would then just meter the face. Using a low aperture will help to create a nice soft look such as in the photo above.

    The image above is very nice. These are just my preferences.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

  • What's In a Name

    July 3, 2008 03:19 am

    "All you need is an assistant..."

    Couldn't help but chuckle at that one. =)

    It sounds like a great technique, utilizing the standard portraiture lighting. If I can scrap up an assistant or two and then a 3 foot gobo (reflectors are much easier to improv with), then I might give this a shot, no pun intended.

  • Sam

    July 3, 2008 02:48 am

    This tip is so good, a company named california sunbounce even created a diffusor with long handle called 'sun-swatter' right for this use (though it can work as rain protector, too, I was told).

  • Alice Bevan–McGregor

    July 3, 2008 02:38 am

    I've recently used the "shoot in the shadow of a building" technique. Worked quite well. :^)

    http://flickr.com/photos/gothcandy/2630685472/

  • Seim Effects

    July 3, 2008 01:05 am

    Nice tips. It's always good to have an arsenal of tricks on this stuff. Evening late and shade are great, but we all get the shoot sometimes where bright sun is the order of the day.

    With large groups it's especially hard since a quick spot of shade, or a reflector is not big enough. I've made some presets that balance things out a bit, but direct sunlight still seems to be my worse image killer.

    Gavin Seim

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