Thursday, September 8, 2011

Capture Philosophy | Photo Tip 04: Finding Portrait Light on Location

A week or so ago, I had the opportunity to work with talented Denver studio portrait photographer, Mark Pells, on an ambitious headshot project for the theatre department at my son's school.  

As a completely self-taught photographer and a HUGE fan of natural light, it was fascinating to watch Mark create magic with his studio lights.  I found it most interesting to learn that I am often drawn to or actively seeking out  the very conditions in the field, which he sought to create in the studio.

Thought I'd share a few of my personal favorite conditions through examples, in case you're curious to experiment the next time you're out photographing your family and friends.  

These are all photos I took on a single walk with my son on a bright, sunny afternoon in Denver (as you can see in the first photo below).  These photos were all taken with a 100mm macro lens with a Canon 5D, set on aperture priority (all shots are between apertures of 2.8 and 4.5).
Often, it is instinct for us to want to place our subjects in the sun.  But beware!  Direct sunlight can be a great dramatic tool when used intentionally, or with reflectors, fill light, etc., but if you are out with your camera and don't have such accessories (which I did not use for the shot above), not only will your subject likely be squinting, direct sunlight will create harsh shadows that generally aren't as flattering for skin tones, facial features, etc.  Thus, it is usually better to take the subject out of direct sunlight...
Once you take your subject out of the direct light, you'll have better luck getting even skin tones.  In this photo, light bouncing around from north and east facing windows at a coffee shop provided gorgeous, flattering conditions in the afternoon.  I simply exposed the shot to feature the correct amount of light in his eye and let the camera and natural light do the rest.  You can actually see the north facing windows reflected in his eye. 

In this shot, I asked my subject to stand in a spot of reflected light -- sunlight that was bouncing off the windows of a building across from us.  Beams of reflected light are fun to experiment with, and are a bit easier on the subject's gaze.  As you can see, while it still casts some dramatic shadows, it also can create fun magic in the eyes.
One of my favorite things to look for is nice, subtle bouncing light that is slightly weighted in its direction.  By that I mean that the light is essentially coming more from one side than the other creating a nice broad highlight on one side of the face, in this case, the side towards camera.  A darker background pops his face as the main focus of the composition.
These last two photos are shot on the same long wooden bench, but facing opposite directions.  In this first one, there is only indirect light on my subject, but an open area of VERY bright light behind him.  I exposed for his face (so essentially you'd need to OVERexpose if you were using a camera that meters for an overall scene), and I let the background go white.
For this photo, we switched positions so that the brighter area is now behind me (the camera), and it's a little easier to get a traditional photo with a nice tonal range, great skin tones and no hot spots.
And of course it never hurts to capture an impish grin :)

Happy shooting!!


J Howe said...

Nice write-up with great images to go along with it.

Jennifer M Koskinen said...

Thank you so much for the compliment, Mr. Howe!

Robin said...

So, if I want to take pictures like these, where do I go to get such a terrific looking model?