Great Portrait Light! - 4/7/08
Let nature worry about your lighting so you can focus on making great shots
It just so happens that open shade is one of the most flattering portrait lights, and it can be found almost anywhere. On sunny days, it's under tall trees or in open doorways, and on cloudy days, it's everywhere all the time. Open shade is an immensely soft, incredibly flattering light-making it great for portraits, and even better for making kids look like little angels. Because it's a broad, even light source, it's also perfect for photographers who need to move around-say, in case they're chasing energetic little angels all over the place.
Once you've found open shade, the hard part's finished. Look for a background that's not distracting and preferably pretty uniform. Bring along a large reflector (like white poster board or foamcore) and a spare set of hands to hold it. Use this fill card as the primary light source on the subject. On a sunny day, the open shade is probably two full stops brighter than the sunlight exposure; once you add the fill card, it's about one stop. Pick an exposure slightly over normal to soften skin tones even more, and err on the side of a wide-open aperture to minimize the depth of field. (I like to meter for the face before adding the fill card. This way, once the fill is in place, I'll be subtly overexposing the shot, further softening skin tones and making the light even more flattering.)
With this bright soft light and shallow depth of field, you'll be amazed at the quality of the photos that come from such simple lighting. Even better, you'll be free to concentrate on interacting with your subjects-always a great step toward great photographs, particularly if you're working with kids.