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Monday, March 31, 2008

Available Light Portraits

Learn to make maximum use of natural light to create exciting outdoor portraits

available lightHIGH NOON
The bright, direct sunlight at noon is known for being a bad time to take portraits. The light brings heavy contrast, and models spend a lot of the time squinting and, when it's warm enough, sweating. So unless you're purposely planning on dramatic shots with bold contrast, get in the shade.

"High-noon direct light is the worst time of the day for a portrait," notes Stoecklein. "What I do in a situation like that is try to get the subject in some kind of shaded situation-under a big oak tree or whatever is available. In the shadows, you get blue light, which is really, really beautiful. And you don't have any of the ambient light bouncing around the glass."

Adds Stoecklein, "Sometimes I'll park myself under a tree as well, or under a porch, or I'll have someone who's working with me hold a cowboy hat or a piece of cardboard in front of the lens to keep that ambient light from bouncing around in the lens—whatever it takes to totally shade the sunlight from hitting the lens—and then I'm able to shoot directly into the sun."

By positioning himself to shoot directly into the sun, Stoecklein can use one of the strongest effects in photography, the silhouette. When subjects are placed in front of a light source and metering for exposure is based on the light behind the subject, then the subject will appear as a graphic shadow. By varying the degree of exposure and the strength of the light source, the subject and foreground also can be manipulated for more or less detail, as well as interesting highlighting effects.

"I have my own method for establishing exposure," says Stoecklein. "I use the Basic Daylight Exposure system, also called the 'Sunny 16 Rule'."


Stoecklein usually shoots everything at a shutter speed of 1⁄500 sec., which keeps subjects sharp, even when he's moving or they're moving.
Basic Daylight Exposure is an easy-to-remember guideline for establishing proper exposure. Based on a typical average exposure for a normal subject during the middle of the day, exposure when using a constant aperture of ƒ/16 dictates the ISO and shutter speed to be at their nearest corresponding values. So, at ƒ/16 with ISO 100, for example, the shutter speed should be set to 1⁄125 sec. At ISO 200, the shutter speed would be 1⁄250 sec., at ISO 400, it would be 1⁄500 sec., and so on. Logically, to shoot at ISO 100 with the aperture set to ƒ/11 instead of ƒ/16, a one-stop difference, the shutter speed would increase by one step to 1⁄250 sec.

Stoecklein usually shoots everything at a shutter speed of 1⁄500 sec., which keeps subjects sharp, even when he's moving or they're moving. On a typical sunny day, he uses ƒ/6.3 and ƒ/7.1 to get a good exposure. So Stoecklein knows that when he wants something to be backlit, he adjusts his numbers to follow the recommendations of the Basic Daylight Exposure guide. With a constant shooting speed of 1⁄500 sec., he should drop one to two stops to ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/4 for a slightly overexposed image and a shadowy, but pronounced subject.

Stoecklein uses other natural lighting tricks to add dimension to his images, too, like using natural reflectors such as snow or sand to bounce light from below the subject. Inclement weather may be a pain for most people, but for outdoor photographers like Stoecklein, it can be ideal.

"I'm known for bad weather, so I love shooting in the rain, I love shooting on a really overcast, crummy day, a snowstorm, big clouds—I love that stuff. Our images communicate a story, so whenever you can add weather to the story, it gives a better feeling and a dynamic to the communication. But, of course, the light is so cool, too."


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