(Click on photos to enlarge)
The beauty of natural light that’s been altered by the windows, skylights, and open doors it passes through cannot be easily duplicated with strobes, tungsten, or LED lights. But the position and quality of this light can change quickly. So, if I’m going to be shooting in a model’s home or apartment, the first thing I’ll do when arriving is to check how and where the outdoor lighting is entering the house. If I find an area with interesting possibilities, I’ll begin the photo shoot there. I’ll photograph quickly, doing as many setups as possible before the light changes.
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The sun coming through the window illuminated the five photos below. No light modifiers were used. Therefore, dark, well-defined shadows were created. When setting up a shot for this type of lighting, I’m thinking: “How should the model interact with the sunlight?” Usually, I’ll position the subject so the sunbeam is on or near her eyes. It seems to make sense that the eyes are where the viewers’ eyes will go initially. I believe they are the starting point for reading a portrait photograph. Positioning the subject like this establishes the light’s presence and, had there been any question before, vigorously shows the viewer where to place their gaze.
The photo below shows Julianne posed by a railing, directly across from a window that has late afternoon sunlight streaming in. Her pose and positioning had to be precise for the shadow to be sharp. The bright light on the wall (and the dark areas beyond it) frame her shadow, helping to emphasize its shape. The sunglasses were added primarily to protect her eyes, though they add a nice touch to both her and her shadow. I have mixed feelings about how pointy her nose looks on the wall, but that does make the shadow more of a caricature, which I like.
It’s important to monitor the sky when shooting with outdoor illumination. Large clouds rolling over the sun can quash even the most spectacular light. If that happens, the question is how long to wait for the clouds to pass before moving on to another setup. If the lighting has been good up to that point, I’m willing to wait a while (perhaps several minutes). Then again, there have been many times when the break in the clouds never materialized. An alternative solution would be to move on, but be ready to quickly reset and continue shooting should the sun reappear.
Occasionally, indoor illumination will produce the same interesting effects as exterior light entering a window. If it does, and if the light is bright enough, I may use it as the light source for a picture. This type of illumination can come from fluorescent lights, bare bulbs, and spotlights located on ceilings or toward the top of walls.
A single overhead source lit the young woman below. Because the illumination was from above, the model’s eyes are dark, though I did brighten them slightly in Photoshop. Also, the light's dimness made a slow shutter speed necessary, resulting in a soft, blurry photograph. Despite these shortcomings (or actually because of them), as well as the depth created by the long hallway, I think the result is quite appealing. The picture was shot at 1/4 sec, f5.6.
If the desire is to illuminate these dark areas, a strobe or reflector can be used. It can be positioned to light areas where the available light doesn’t reach or to enhance the illumination already there. Another alternative is to forgo adding additional lighting and to solve the underexposure issues in post-production with Photoshop, as I partially did with the eyes in the above photo.
The image below was shot just a few seconds after the one above. The setup as well as the shutter speed and aperture settings were identical (1/4 sec, f5.6). The only difference between the two was the addition of a flash from a small handheld strobe. It added a small amount of fill light primarily to her face, therefore brightening it.
It also removed the blur. Because a strobe releases its light very quickly (for example, 1/250th of a second), it's similar to setting the camera's shutter speed to 1/250th of a second. Nevertheless, I’m not sure this image was an improvement. I think it's interesting, but less so than the first picture.
Aubrey, below, was lit by a bare bulb hanging high above. The illumination was faint, necessitating a slow shutter speed. But, instead of handholding the camera, as I did previously, I secured it to a tripod. In addition, I had her lean against the wall for support. The result was a mostly sharp image. The picture was shot at 7/10 sec, f5.6.
Something I find exciting about windows, spotlights, bare bulbs, and the like is that they are already present in the environment without me having to set up any of my own lights. Furthermore, this kind of lighting often creates illumination possibilities I undoubtedly would never have thought up or been able to easily construct on my own.
Finding The Shot
Focus And Blur
Lighting The Subject