Amazing portrait photography doesn’t have to be all about lights and equipment. In fact great portraits often rely on nothing more than skill, great composition and using natural available light in a flattering way.
Firstly it’s important to understand that photography is essentially the capture of light. Once you understand this and are willing to try, test and practice, then natural light photography will become easier. To get started you’ll need a willing model (even a still object will do if you don’t have a person handy), a nice space with sufficient lighting and your camera. Optional equipment may include a tripod and reflectors.
Just like all other areas of photography, natural light photography allows you as much creative license as you are willing to use. Portraits can be modern, dramatic or contemporary, the choice is yours. The important thing is to try different styles until you find one that suits you and your subject. Having the person in full light, with or without shadowing on their face, in a dark area with streaming light, under fluorescent lighting, inside or outside, all of these styles will produce dramatically different results. Don’t be afraid to move your subject until the desired lighting result is achieved.
Natural Light Photography Outside.
When taking natural light portraits outside it’s important to remember that the best times to take most photographs outside are early mornings or afternoon. Midday lighting is often too harsh to take photos of people, landscapes or objects, so other times of the day can produce much more flattering photos. Midday photography especially when photographing people, can cast dark shadows under eyes and noses for example as the sun and light source is streaming from directly above. This can be somewhat alleviated by shooting photos in shade but that in itself can present other issues.
When you are forced to take portrait shots outside in the middle of the day, using a reflector is ideal. It’s great to note that expensive equipment is not necessary. A plain piece of white cardboard creates the perfect makeshift reflector and can really brighten your subjects and take your photos from looking like snapshots to professional portraits.
Bouncing light is also a great technique to use for inside natural light portraits. Often when the need arises to take photos for customers, friends or family within their own homes or other venues the lighting is not ideal. If shadow casts are a problem, white cardboard will also work wonders inside to bounce light onto shadowed areas. Inside or out, position the white cardboard or reflector so that it is off camera but shines light onto the subject. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
More Natural Light Photography Considerations.
If low light is a real problem inside, it’s important to remember to get your subjects as close to the light source as possible. Position your subjects next to a large window if possible. By doing this and taking the photos from interesting angles and allowing the subject to try different poses, some great effects can be created. Using open windows, reading lamps or other unique lighting can also create dramatic artistic results that can’t be replicated with studio lighting.
While there’s no perfect guide to using natural light, as long as you stay conscious of where shadows are falling on faces and objects while you take your photos, you are well on the right track to creating a natural light photography portrait masterpiece. Testing and experimenting within the bounds of natural light photography will allow you to take your photography to amazing levels, and if all else fails, your digital files can be corrected and post processed in image editing software. Just enjoy your photography journey.