Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Beauty Of Available Light

When many people think of a professional portrait photographer, this often conjures up images of someone like Richard Avedon, darting around frantically with a light meter.
Text & Photography By J. Dennis Thomas Published in Shooting
Here, I took Earl and Courtney, a married couple as well as a musical duo, to a nice rustic bar with beautiful wood paneling and large overhead doors that allowed the late-afternoon light to stream in. The venue was very laid-back and allowed us to relax and chat over a few cocktails, as well as casually shoot these portraits.
Here, I took Earl and Courtney, a married couple as well as a musical duo, to a nice rustic bar with beautiful wood paneling and large overhead doors that allowed the late-afternoon light to stream in. The venue was very laid-back and allowed us to relax and chat over a few cocktails, as well as casually shoot these portraits.
When many people think of a professional portrait photographer, this often conjures up images of someone like Richard Avedon, darting around frantically with a light meter, taking readings from all different angles in a high-paced and frenetic setting at a large industrial space surrounded by a myriad of assistants, different types of strobes, hot lights, softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors and stands. This is definitely a scene you can come across in a busy high-end portrait studio, but this isn't necessarily the norm, nor is it the only way a professional portrait photographer can operate.

While high-fashion and glamour photography often rely on sophisticated, precise lighting patterns and techniques to highlight the perfectly sculpted features of models, in the real world, elaborate lighting setups are overkill for many of our clients, so it's not exactly necessary to invest thousands of dollars in lighting equipment in order to be successful as a portrait photographer.

Truth is, the simplest lighting can be very attractive, and by learning a few tricks and techniques, you can become a highly successful photographer, creating beautiful portraits for your clients using minimal equipment and available light.
Amber is a model with very fair skin, and in some lighting situations, it's hard to capture a good skin tone. I had a gold reflector placed at camera-right, which gave her skin a nice warm glow and added some highlight to the side of her face.

EQUIPMENT

Although shooting professional portraits doesn't require a lot of costly equipment, there are a few things every mobile portrait photographer should carry with them, because when shooting outside of a studio setting, the light can be relatively unpredictable. At times, the light can be too harsh and directional, or it can be too soft and flat. It's a rare occasion where the light is absolutely perfect, so having these items on hand will allow you to take unpredictable light and shape it to your needs, which is a key skill for any natural-light photographer to have.

Probably the most important piece of gear that you can carry with you (aside from your camera and lens) is a reflector. I recommend getting what's referred to as a 5-in-1 reflector. This is a disk that has a number of different surfaces with which you can control lights in specific ways. The surfaces of a 5-in-1 and their uses are as follows:

Silver. This surface is used to reflect light back onto the subject with a bit of contrast. It can add some bright, defining highlights to your subject while filling in shadows. It's also great for adding a catchlight to your subject's eye, which can sometimes be lacking in available-light portraits.

White. The white surface is used to add a neutral, gentle fill light to bring out the detail in shadowy areas. The white surface keeps the fill light a consistent color and helps to reduce contrast.

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