This guest post on natural light portrait photography was submitted by Ed Verosky at About-Photography.com and author of the popular eBooks, “Taking Your Portraiture to the Next Level,” and “Taking Your Portraiture to the Next Level II.”
Using natural light can produce some of the most pleasing portraits, but it’s not just the light we should pay attention to, there’s a lot that can be said for using the available shade in a given environment. After all, it’s the interplay between light and shadow that creates a sense of dimension; the contrast and shadows in our portraiture define the form and textures on our subject and in the scene.
A favorite little neighbourhood grocery store on New York City’s Upper West Side closed its doors recently. Where the outside floral section used to be, there’s now only a bare overhang and a few old relics of a once vibrant storefront. Yes, sad for the neighbourhood, but good for pictures. My subject, Jake, posed for a few editorial-style portrait shots that show how simple natural light can be used to create great portraits without the help of any bring-along reflectors or flash. This simple technique shows how using available shade can be just as important as using available light.
Camera settings: 800 ISO, f/4.0, 1/125 sec. The space provided us with an interesting background and available reflective surfaces.
These photos were taken on Broadway, an avenue which goes approximately north and south along Manhattan with our shooting location on the west side of the street. Being close to 4pm in the fall, the sun was already positioned lower to our relative south-west and not within our view at the location, so we weren’t dealing with direct sunlight.
Camera settings: 800 ISO, f/4.0, 1/160 sec. Note how we’re using the light coming in from the camera position, as well as the abandoned mirror (for a noticeable rim light).
We shot these images just off the main sidewalk and closer to the store windows. As you can see in the diagram, the configuration of the space, being an inset to the building, gave us an area of shade to work with. The mirror mounted on the wall was a bonus “available reflector” which provided us with a nice rim light effect.
Although there is a substantial amount of ambient light bouncing around the sidewalk and the street in general, most of the light is coming in from the sky. A large tree is providing more shade and blocking much of the light coming in from the subject’s left. This essentially narrows the overall light reaching the subject, giving us a nice catch light to the eyes. Because we’re using a good mix of ambient light, indirect sunlight from the sky, advantageous shade, and proper posing, we are able to get a great transition from light to shadow for a pleasingly natural contrast.
Tips For Great Portraits Using Natural Light:
- Avoid very bright or direct sunlight in your subject’s face. Direct sunlight creates a harsh lighting pattern and strained or squinting eyes.
- Use shade sources to mold and direct the ambient light on and around your subject.
- Use light-colored walls, reflective surfaces, and natural bounce lighting as additional light sources for rim lighting, hair light, and fill light.
- Position your subject in such a way as to avoid unflattering shadows, especially around the eyes and nose.
- Set your camera to Aperture Priority Mode so that you can control the f-stop (depth of field) while your camera automatically sets the shutter speed. This is good practice where natural lighting conditions can change constantly.
Camera settings: 800 ISO, f/4.0, 1/200 sec. Even a traditional portraiture “Butterfly” lighting pattern can be achieved with a good location and proper posing.
Ed Verosky is a professional photographer and author based in New York. For more portraiture tips and techniques, check out Ed’s popular eBooks, “Taking Your Portraiture to the Next Level,” and “Taking Your Portraiture to the Next Level II.”
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