Outdoors, Using The Right Lighting at the Right Time

When all is said and done we photographers have 3 options for main light sources to use outdoors.  One is not better than another, it is simply that different situations call for different types of lighting.  Natural light is the first type of lighting that we can use.  Natural light is best just after sunrise and just before sunset.  This ideal time of natural light doesn`t last long so one session is about all you can get through before this ideal light is gone.  http://www.jeffsmithphoto.com/dvd   FREE SAMPLE VIDEO SEGMENT, CLICK HERE!

The next type of lighting is modified natural light, some used to call it subtractive lighting, but it is really moved beyond that to using the existing natural light and fine tuning it with black panels to create ample shadows, reflectors to add light into areas and translucent and gobo to soften or block light hitting the subject. This type of lighting is ideal early or late in the day, when the perfect light just after sunrise or just before sunset is over, but yet you have large areas of shade for usable backgrounds.

While this type of lighting offers you the greatest flexibility, it is the hardest to master because you have to be able to see the light, identify it`s directions and be able to determine it`s characteristics.  Everyone talks about seeing the light, but by watching many younger photographers photograph outdoors I can see this is all but a lost art.  To “see the light” you have two choices, you can stand where you are going to place your subject, identify where your main light will be coming from, determine how usable the main light is and then figure out what tools you need to modify that light to create a beautiful lighting ratio between highlight and shadow on your subject`s face.

I choose a little easier way which is to simply study your subject`s eyes.  The eyes in outdoor portraits tell you everything you need to know about the lighting.  Where the catch-lights appear in the eyes, the size of the catch-lights, how distinct they are as well as how much color you see in the eye and any shadowing under the eyes tell you everything you need to know about you lighting and how to fix it.  If you have faint catch-lights that are very large, you light source is too large and the light is too soft.  If you have two small, very distinct catch-lights you main light is too directional and from too small of a source.

To train myself  years ago I studied the look of the eye`s in my studio portraits and then I practiced creating that same look in my outdoor portraits.  Today the light in my outdoor portraits is very close to that I create in the studio.  It is that way because I was serious about my outdoor portraits and I wanted to develop my skill to be able to take beautiful portraits anytime of day without using flash or camera technology to hide the fact I didn`t know what the hell I was doing.  I see speakers today talking about TTL flash and all the new technology to link them together.  If you sent these photographers into a park with only a camera and a beautiful model I doubt they could come up with much more than 300 images of the girl leaning against the tree!

The last type of lighting is to replace the natural main light with light from a reflector or battery-powered studio flash.  An on-camera flash is never an option for a main light source.  You wouldn`t use it in side a studio, so you shouldn`t use it outdoors either.  I use a reflector for most of my portraits, because I work during business hours of the day, when my clients want to be photographed.  During these times of day, usable backgrounds are the hardest thing to find.  The midday sun ravages most usable backgrounds and selecting an area with very large trees and/or obstructions like buildings is a must.

I use a reflector because once you learn to see the effects of light and to feather off the main beam of reflected sunlight it is a fast, workable system that give you a consistent color temperature.  Again the eyes provide all the information you need when using this type of lighting. While I am at the camera, I have my assistant go the same approx. position I would place my main light in the studio, at a similar height, relative to the subject.  He then reflects sunlight way over the head of the subject, then slowly starts lowering it.  Once I see two distinct catch-lights in the eyes I have a usable main light source.

Outdoor lighting takes a great deal of practice and to master takes years of study, but that is a good thing!  It is difficult, which makes it great for those how aren’t lazy to set themselves and their work apart from the clueless cameramen (and women) roaming around all the parks now-days with an on-camera flash and no idea where the natural light is coming from!   To learn more about Outdoor Lighting Order my New DVD Outdoor Portrait Photography 75 minutes, 5 locations and On Sale NOW for $50

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on October 22, 2010.

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