Shooting with Available Light – Lifestyle Portraiture

Image by Ben Pancoast

Life offers some of the most beautiful lighting and it is literally up to you to step up to the challenge of unpredictability, to seek it and to use it properly. Natural light photographers make use of reflectors and diffusers to play with the available light and tweak it to their liking.

The average person does not feel comfortable in a studio setting with lights flashing at them. It becomes overwhelming and does take over and interfere with the image capture. The general rule is if you can photograph them outside or in their element with minimal additional lighting, do so. The result will inevitably be better. Here are some tips for shooting with natural light!

When shooting outside in full daylight, many feel tempted to either use flash or place their subjects in open shade. Yes, it is true, open shade makes for easy light, but the more interesting light, the shadows, the sparkle, lies in the sun! Push your comfort level by stepping out of the shade, and shoot tons! Photograph in full daylight, at all hours of the day. Shooting mid-day will be the most challenging, but be creative! Look for interesting shadows and shapes, and play with them. Stop and analyze a scene before shooting and look for interesting vantage points that enable the light to play its amazing tricks.

When you’re photographing people in daylight, begin by shooting with the sunlight in back of your subjects. Most people will squint in full sun and/or blink frequently. By back lighting your subjects, you will allow them to be more comfortable and in return they most certainly will be more cooperative!

What happens with blown-out skies? The answer to that is “nothing”! There really is nothing wrong with exposing for the subject and letting the rest go where it goes. Perfectly lit images (with detail in the whites and shadows) have their place; it can be restrictive and really unnecessary when photographing people.

With the use of reflectors, you can minimize the contrast and reclaim some detail in the background. A silver reflector will add a nice clean sharpness to the image, but remember that it is a strong reflector and you do not want to blind your subject! You may use a simple white reflector sometimes to slightly open up the shadows but keep the charm of back lighting. Also play with sun flares! They are completely unpredictable but can be so lovely! It goes without saying that to make the most out of the use of reflectors, you will need extra hands – this is when a helper comes in very handy!

When using flash, use it as a secondary light, letting the ambient or surrounding light play the main role. When shooting interiors, bounce the flash off the ceiling or off your handy reflector, and create a softer light than shooting forward straight off the camera. It is also a much more flattering light. Under-expose the flash 1.5-3 stops and slow down the shutter to let the beautiful ambient light filter in. As with everything, practice is a must! Play around, and don’t let intimidation or the unknown guide your decision – you’ll surprise yourself and definitely expand your skills! Most importantly, have fun!

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