Posts Tagged ‘Natural’

How to Use Natural Light for Macro Photography

19 Dec

I have to admit that the sun is one of those things in life that intrigues and fascinates me. When I was a kid I remember laying on the floor looking at the sky, watching the sun changing its position during the day and casting different types of shadows and reflections.

Natural light is the term we use in photography to refer the light of the sun. This, as opposed to artificial light that is usually created by the transformation of electricity into light through the use of light bulbs.

Even though natural light has the sun as a starting point, it can look very different depending on many factors. Time of the day, the season of the year, weather conditions and various other circumstances may influence the way sunlight reaches the earth and can be captured in a photograph.

As photographers, it is our job to understand the way it works and make the best out of it. In this article, we will explore the way natural light works and how to apply it in macro photography work. Let’s start with the basics.

Quality of Light

Quality of light is a term usually used by photographers to refer to the “hardness” or “softness” of a light source.

This quality is determined by the way a given light source produces the transitions between the highlights and shadows.
Soft light produces smooth transitions, while hard light produces abrupt transitions between the tonal areas, therefore giving the image less or more contrast.

The basic principle is: The larger the light source, the softer the light.

This means that sunlight gets softer closer to sunrise and sunset and harder closer to midday, due to the changes of distance between the sun and the earth during the day (and the angle at which it enters the atmosphere).

Lighting macro photography 01

Left: Image photographed at sunrise. Right: Image photographed at midday.

Direction of Light

The direction of light refers to the position of the light relative to the subject. This positioning determines the width of the shadows it casts creating the sense of texture and shape.

The basic principle is: Shadows fall to the opposite side of where the light is located.

Frontal lighting has a flattening effect on most subjects as it casts the shadows on their back, removing the three-dimensional effect.

Side lighting accentuates the texture of the subject as it casts side shadows creating the sense of dimension and volume.

Backlighting creates an outlining effect on the subject separating it from the background, making it more dominant.

Lighting macro photography 02

Color and Contrast

The color of light, or white balance, and contrast in natural light is mainly affected by two factors:

#1 – Time of day affects the position of the sun. The closer the sun is to the horizon, the less contrast and warmer is the light. This phenomenon happens mainly because sunlight has to cross more atmosphere which gives less contrast and filters the blue light resulting in a yellowish tonal effect. Closer to high noon the higher the contrast and less color variation it has because the sun is further away from the horizon.

#2 – Weather which affects contrast and color of light mainly by the presence of clouds which act like a huge diffuser resulting in less contrast and a blue color cast.

Lighting macro photography 03

Diffused and Reflected Light

Even though you cannot control sunlight, it doesn’t mean you cannot modify it to suit your needs.

Diffused light is achieved by sending a beam of light thru a semi-transparent surface resulting in lower contrast and feathered edge shadows.

Reflected light is achieved by bouncing the incident light off a reflecting surface onto the subject resulting in a change of direction and intensity of the light.

Lighting macro photography 04


Basic tools like reflectors and diffusers are fundamental resources for natural light photography. Even though there are a lot of macro photography dedicated gear options available, if you don’t want to spend your hard earned money on them, you can just build your own with things you probably already have around the house.

Tracing or baking paper and aluminum foil are great materials for building custom diffusers and reflectors. Just cut them to the size and shape that best suits your needs.

Lighting macro photography 05

Light diffusion materials range from nylon to translucent paper, plastic or acrylic. Here is a good example of a macro shot of a quarter dollar coin with direct side natural light and with tracing paper sheet diffuser.

Lighting macro photography 06

Left: Direct sunlight from the side. Right: Diffused sunlight from the side.

In this particular situation, the diffuser acted as a light softener and a reflector creating the highlights that give volume to the coin engraving.

Adding more light

Even though sunlight is only one light spot it is easy to simulate additional spots with reflectors. Take a look at this example of an old pocket watch photographed with side natural sunlight.

Lighting macro photography 07

Even though the light on the watch’s face is good, the rest just fades to black, making it flat. Another light spot would really help to get the right image volume. So we will add a mirror reflection on the opposite side of the main light for better definition of the object.

Lighting macro photography 08

And here is the final image

Lighting macro photography 09

That small spot reflection from the mirror on the left side of the image was enough to create the right volume, and give the image depth and ambiance.

These kinds of reflections can be created with different types of materials. A mirror like the one used in this image gives a narrow and intense reflection. While materials like aluminum foil create a broader reflection that can be scattered if you crumple the foil making it reflect light in different directions.

White surfaces like cardboard are also good reflection materials, giving a softer and less contrasted reflection than aluminum foil.

Background Separation

In photography, there are many factors that can influence background separation; focal length, aperture, distance between the subject and its background and lighting.

But because macro photography is such a specific subject that happens in a very small area, all these factors become critical as every small change translates to a big difference in the captured image. Because of the highly enlarged capture area, it becomes very difficult to use a camera handheld. A tripod and a shutter release cable are a must have for macro photographers.

The “Boogie Man” in the macro photography world is without a doubt the depth of field. In most macro circumstances the focus area is so shallow that a minimal change in the distance to the subject or aperture results in failure. This shallow depth of field can also be used as an advantage point to create background separation.

Both of these images were photographed in the same position with a 100mm macro lens. The difference here is the depth of field created by different apertures.

Lighting macro photography 10

Left: f/32. Right: f/11.

The image on the left gets confused and overcrowded with information. While the image on the right gets separation between the main focus subject and the background making it simpler and more appealing to the eye.

Another way to get background separation is to use the position of the light to create separation.

Lighting macro photography 11

This image was done using a simple and monochromatic background and backlighting which creates overexposure in the background, making the main subject stand out.

Mixing Natural Light with Flash

Sometimes natural light just isn’t enough for the image you want to create. Mixing natural light with flash is not an easy job, as flash usually overpowers natural light, giving the image an artificial look.

However, mixing the right amount of these too light sources can give some interesting results.

Lighting macro photography 12

This image was created with the use of a ring flash that created the specular highlights in the water drops, and a longer shutter speed that allowed the background to capture some natural light.

This result could only be achieved by the mix of these two light sources. Using only natural light would result in dull water drops without the flash sparkle, and artificial light background if only the ring flash had been used.

Mixing Natural Light with LEDs

In the past few years, LED light has become a valuable resource for photographers that want to use continuous light but don’t want to deal with incandescent or fluorescent bulbs and all their associated problems.

LEDs are very energy efficient as they convert about 80% of the energy they use into light, while incandescent only converts about 20%. They also don’t generate much heat and are available in many colors.

Lighting macro photography 13

This image was created with the mix of natural morning light shining through a window, and a simple and inexpensive cool white LED pocket flashlight.

The overall look was created by the use of a light painting technique with a 2-second exposure. Moving the flashlight on the top of the table created the texture and blue cast, while the diffused backlight from the window illuminated the food.

Final Thoughts

I guess light in photography is not what you start with, but what you make out of it. Once you know the rules, you can adapt yourself to what you’ve got and transform a bad lighting situation into great images.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, as trial and error is the best way to success. Use and abuse natural light, after all, it is free and is for sure different every day!

The post How to Use Natural Light for Macro Photography by Ivo Guimaraes appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

07 Dec

I love working with natural light, I always have. Even more so now that our digital cameras have sensors so incredibly capable of making images in extremely low light. Making portraits using natural light only is a good skill to learn so you can make photographs anywhere. Here are some tips to help you mast nature light portraiture.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Be aware of the quality of light

When you want to make a series of portraits using only natural light, you first need to be aware of what the light is like at your chosen location and the style of portrait you want to make. Is the quality of light hard or soft?

If it’s a bright sunny day and the light is harsh (hard), you will get portraits with a much different look and feel, than if the sky is cloudy and overcast. Morning and evening light will give your portraits a different quality (soft light) as will photographing your subject indoors and using light from a window.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Soft side light from a window.

Hard sunlight can be quite challenging to work with, but can produce some good results if you style you portrait well. If you’re working in open sun it can be helpful to have a reflector on hand and a friend to assist you so dark shadows can be reduced.

What kind of photo do you want?

Having a concept in mind for the type of photo you want will give you a better chance of success. If you’re heading out to make some portraits on a sunny day and have an idea of making some soft dreamy romantic photos, this will be difficult. But if you want to make some photos to illustrate the idea of a journey in a hot country the light will be your friend and support your idea.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Bight, harsh sun in the middle of the day.

Cloudy days provide a soft light that’s generally easier to get a more even exposure. The flat light tends to render a softer feeling to portraits.

So if you’re making portraits with natural light on a cloudy day, you will have more success if your concept is for a gentler look. Photos taken under a cloudy sky and later converted to black and white work well as the tone range will be more limited than on a sunny day.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Portraits on a cloudy day.

Use light to your advantage

If the sky is heavily overcast you will find it challenging as the light will be very dull. On days when there’s not such thick cloud you will notice the light is still soft, but brighter and more vibrant (less flat,) so nicer for making portraits. Be careful of your exposure settings if the clouds are moving and the light value is frequently changing.

Finding a shaded space and making use of naturally reflected light will help you achieve a different look on a bright sunny day. This is not the same as the light you have on a cloudy day. Light reflecting off a wall close by or light-toned pavement, (cement rather than asphalt or dark paving,) will fill in shadows on your subject’s face and produce a more even, lively result.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Light reflecting off a nearby white wall provided fill light for this portrait.

Placing your subject so they are slightly inside a shaded area, but close to the bright sun, can allow the reflection of the sunshine to have a very helpful effect in lighting your subject. So long as your subject is not too far away from the bright light you can make use of the reflection to add a more interesting dynamic to your portraits.

The Golden Hours

Of course, making portraits with the rich morning or evening sunshine (often called Golden Hours), or even subdued light can produce very pleasing portraits. Be careful though not to have your subject look directly ahead into the sun as they will typically make an unpleasant face. Backlighting or side lighting your subject at these times can be more effective and more comfortable for your subject. Diffused morning and evening light is lovely to work with as it is soft yet can still be quite rich and warm toned.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Diffused early evening light.

Try new things

I’ve loved making natural light portraits for many years, but I also enjoy developing my technique by trying new ways of working. If you enjoy a particular aspect of photography, stick with it, develop what you do. But don’t just do the same thing every time.

If you like making portraits in natural light on a cloudy day because you find it easier, sometimes try shooting on a sunny day. Stretch yourself to learn some new technique. You may discover something new, a new way ot working that you really enjoy.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Portable natural light studio

I have a portable natural light studio I love to take into the mountain villages here in northern Thailand. We’ve even started including it in some of the workshops we run and our customers love the professional looking results they can achieve. My outdoor studio only requires that we have space to set it up, (just a few square meters is enough,) and a sunny day for the best light, but I do use it on cloudy days too.

The best thing about it is having control over how the sun lights my subjects. I set it up so the sun is behind the backdrop. Above the backdrop is a fine gray nylon screen to filter the sunlight. The light reflects off the ground which is a light colored earth and works well with Asian skin tones, or a large plastic sheet. I have more recently introduced a large reflector too and am achieving some very pleasing results.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

The light coming from behind the backdrop is providing great light on these subjects’ hair as a rim light, and on their faces via reflected light.

The portable studio behind the scenes.

Your turn to try it

Next time you head out to make some portraits try something different with the light. If you prefer sunshine, make some in the shade as well. If you prefer a cloudy day challenge yourself to go out in the middle of the day when the sun is shining and find a location where you have some good light. Remember, the only time you cannot make a photo is when there is no light at all.

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Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

06 Nov

When I’m on a photo shoot, I always carry two flash guns with me. However, when it’s a family outing or holiday, the flash guns are left behind in favor of kiddie stuff I need to lug around and I shoot using purely natural light, without even a reflector to help. It does help that I carry a prime lens that opens up to f/1.4 should I need or want to shoot indoors.

Here are my tips for making portraits using purely natural light.

On a sunny day, there is so much light that it makes it quite hard to take portraits, contrary to what many would think. I generally don’t like taking portraits with the sun directly hitting the face of my subject, so that makes the job even harder on such a bright day.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

The first thing to be mindful of is the direction of light – is it coming from overhead, at an angle of 45 degrees or higher or lower? As you cannot physically move the sun, you are going to have to move your subject instead. Think of positioning your subject as leveraging natural light to make a pleasing portrait.


Here are some outdoor scenarios where you can position your subject and avoid direct bright sunlight.

In the shade

My go-to (and easiest) spot is a shaded or sheltered area. Ideally, find a large enough shaded area so that your entire subject is covered in shade. You don’t want dappled light or parts of the body overexposed by being in the sun while the rest of the person is in the shade.

Areas of shade could be under a tree or in the shadow of a tall structure such as the wall of a building as in the photo on the left below. This gives you even lighting over a large area and even exposure too with no hard shadows.

Compare the left photo to the right one where the subject is wearing a hat. I metered on her face and because she was furthered shadowed by the hat, the exposure increased a tad and the rest of the image then got brighter. This can be evened out quite easily in post-production by adding a soft vignette.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

With a very bright backlight

Sometimes you find yourself at a location that doesn’t offer enough shade or there is a lack of large structures to provide shelter. You would end up shooting in a bright wide-open space and your only option is to shoot backlit or at least provide shade to your subject’s face.

The difficulty with shooting backlit is that you would need to have ample fill light to compensate for the very strong backlight. You can either use your camera’s built-in flash or use some kind of reflector. That could be a light-colored piece of cardboard or a natural reflector in the vicinity, such as a bright path or wall that reflects strong sunlight back onto your subject’s face.

Shooting in an open or semi-open space, like the black and white photo above, where the backlight is a lot stronger than the light illuminating the subject it gets complicated. Unless you are using a flash to counteract the backlight, the background will be blown out. Even if you shoot with a small aperture, the difference in the amount of light between the subject and the background will be too great to get an even exposure without using a fill flash.

Natural reflectors

In the photo below, this was not taken in a fully open space but the shade there was weaker. The hat provided more shade to her face and you can see the left side is a little darker than the right. That makes for a nice gradation of light and shadow as opposed to a flatly-lit portrait.

I leveraged a natural reflector here which was just to camera right – a light colored parasol which reflected the sun onto the girl’s face. You can also see that the background was a lot brighter and more washed out compared to the first photo above left. But it is showing some foliage compared to the photo above right, hence there is more detail rather than just a white blown out sky.

When I find myself in situations like these, I make sure my main focus is the subject’s face and I don’t mind the background being blown or washed out. After all, I am after a portrait of the subject.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Light from above

Compare the two photos below. The left photo is shot with fairly flat lighting on the face. I made sure the subject was in full shade and the light coming from both the right and left sides was even.

The photo on the right is different in that I asked her to look up a little, thus using the light coming from above and creating a slight gradation of shadow on the right side of her face. Simple positioning of the face in relation to the light source makes a big difference in how your photos look.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Indoor lighting

In comparison to outdoors, there is usually only a fraction of the amount of light indoors, even with a window present. However, this works to your advantage. The light source is usually one-directional unless you have many windows, and therefore you can use this it to sculpt your subject’s face as it were, choosing where the shadows will fall and creating a moody portrait.

The light in the photo below left was coming from a big window, high up at about 30 – 45 degrees to the subject. You can see the shadow falling on the opposite side of her nose and cheeks creating a darker, moodier feel to the image compared to the photo on the right shot outdoors. Even with just a single light source indoors, you have enough light to play with and create the ambiance you want to portray.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Over to you

Whether indoors or outdoors, it is always important to be mindful of where the light is coming from, how much light there is, and if there is any contrast of light and shade in the space. Knowing how to leverage the natural light allows you to create the type of mood you are after in your portrait.

Understanding this and practicing how to use available light will make you a better photographer.

The post Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light by Lily Sawyer appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Video: The pros and cons of natural light vs off-camera flash

15 Sep

Photographer Manny Ortiz took to the woods with his wife and model Diana during golden hour to film a comparison video that many amateur photographers on up will find useful: natural light vs off-camera flash. What are the pros of each setup, why would you choose one over the other, and how can off-camera flash make natural light photos look even better? Manny dives into all of this while performing a live shooting demo.

The video starts with a quick demo where Manny alternates between shooting natural light and off-camera flash to illustrate how each style changes his settings and the final product. Then, once he’s finished, he breaks down the pros and cons of each style.

Here are a couple of before and after pictures Manny shared with us from his demonstration, so you can see the difference between his natural light only portraits and the ones augmented by off-camera flash:

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After the demo Manny discusses the reasons he shoots both natural light and off-camera flash, and when he chooses to shoot which style.

Traditionally a flash photographer, shooting natural light only is ‘liberating’ for Manny. He also appreciates the ability to stay mostly incognito when shooting on-location in a popular area—nobody wants to draw a crowd or unwanted attention during a portrait shoot.

On the other hand, flash photography gives Manny the option to create his own light when mother nature doesn’t cooperate or the time of day isn’t ideal. And since so many portrait photographers start out shooting natural light, properly using off-camera flash can help you to stand out from the crowd.

To hear more of Manny’s thoughts or see him in action, check out the full video above. And if you want to see more of his work, don’t forget to follow him on Instagram where he’s most active.

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How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

20 Aug

Reflected light can add depth and a fresh dynamic to your natural light portraits. Sometimes naturally occurring reflected light can be used, but by far the easiest way is to use a reflector. The most important thing is to learn to see the light falling on your subject and then control the strength and quality of the reflected light you are adding. Here are some tips to help you learn to use a reflector.

Hmong woman drying skeins of hemp thread outdoors - How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

Hmong woman drying skeins of hemp thread which are reflecting light back onto her face.

Naturally reflected light

When making candid portraits, I’m always looking to see if some reflected light is affecting my subject. At the right angle, any surface can bounce light back onto your subject. You can train your eye to see it.

It may be light bouncing off a nearby wall or pavement, an open newspaper or skeins of yarn (as in the photo above). With the strong sunlight behind the lady as she hangs out her skeins of washed thread, the light is reflecting softly back into her face.

Thai woman holding a bamboo tray of steamed fish - How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

A fish vendor at the fresh market with light reflecting onto her from an adjacent white wall.

Naturally reflecting light is easier to make use of if you are posing your subjects and have some control over where they are positioned. Finding a location where the sun is hitting a large light-toned neutral surface can provide you suitable reflected light for portraits.

In this photo of the fish vendor at the local fresh market, the light is reflecting off a white painted building behind me. Behind her is an open entrance to a room with no windows, providing a dark background to nicely isolate my subject.

Types of reflectors

Close up of a Kayan long neck girl with traditional face painting, make-up

Close up of a Kayan long neck girl with traditional face painting makeup.

When there’s no naturally occurring reflected light, a folding reflector is a fabulous accessory to have on hand. These reflectors are relatively inexpensive and come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. The most efficient are the ones which have multiple reflective surfaces.

Note: you can even DIY and build your own reflector.

These reflectors typically have a sleeve which covers a translucent fabric attached to the foldable frame. The sleeve is removable and reversible with four different surfaces (5-in-1 reflectors). Normally they are white, silver, gold, and black. Some even have more complex reflective surfaces. Learning to use this type of reflector well can take some practice, but it’s worth while for the fresh dynamic lighting it will bring to your portraits.

How to Use a Reflector to Improve Your Natural Light Portraits

One of my models assisting me during a portrait session.

How to use a reflector

Having someone to hold the reflector is the best way to use it as the direction of light and angle of the reflector in relation to your subject is important. If the reflector is not at the best angle you will have too much or too little light bouncing onto your subject. You may need to coach whoever is assisting you and demonstrate the effect the reflector has, so they can hold it precisely right for the best lighting.

Careful choice of reflective surface for whatever light you are working in is important too. If you are making portraits outside in full sunshine the use of the white reflector surface may be best. It’s likely the silver or gold surfaces will reflect too much light back onto your subject. Don’t be afraid to experiment though, as that is a great way to learn.

KAren Woman Smoking Her Pipe against a black background

Karen Woman Smoking Her Pipe against a black background.

Using a reflector in bright sunlight

In the bright sunshine, the person holding the reflector needs to be careful not to bounce strong light into your subject’s eyes as they are searching for the best angle to hold the reflector. That can be most uncomfortable for your subject. It’s a good idea to instruct your subject not to look directly at the reflector. If they have not seen a folding reflector before many people will look at it as it is unfolded.

Two long neck Kayan ladies laughing together in a village in Thailand - How to Use a Reflector

With this photo of the two laughing ladies, my wife was using a medium sized gold surfaced reflector. She is an expert assistant and photographer so she knows how to get the optimal reflected light in most situations. My subjects were standing in the shade of a tree and the reflector was also in the shade, so it was not bouncing back full sunshine.

I find the gold surface works well with Asian skin tones. With the strong back light, the bounce light fills in the shadows nicely reducing the over all tonal range in the photo. Because the reflected light is stronger on the ladies faces, (where I was taking my light reading from,) it is more balanced with the light in the background. The bright sun reflecting off the light colored ground also adds nicely to this photo. If my wife had been standing so the gold reflector was in the full sunshine the light would have been too bright and harsh, blinding our models and creating hard shadows on them.

How to Use a Reflector

Reflecting light to balance with the ambient light can reduce shadows without eliminating them.

Using a reflector in soft light

On overcast days a silver reflector will bounce a clean, soft light onto your subject. If you can position your reflector so it balances with the ambient light, gently filling in shadows on the face but not completely eliminating them, you can obtain some very pleasing results.

Varying the angle of the reflector in relation to the light source and your subject will vary the amount of light affecting your subject. You do not need to always have the reflector blasting out the maximum amount of light as this can look very unnatural. Using the white surface rather than the silver side will also reduce the amount of reflected light.

Senior Pwo Karen woman smoking a pipe against a black background - How to Use a Reflector

With the sun behind the model, an overhead diffuser and reflector to my left and the ground also reflecting light.

Other uses for reflectors

Black or white surfaces of very large reflectors can make great backgrounds and the translucent inner part can be used as a screen to hold above your subject to block direct sunlight. In the past, I have used this method but now prefer to use my *portable daylight studio to provide a black or white background and filtered back lighting, (in principle it’s the same thing.) I then use my large folding reflector to help control the light on the front of my subjects.

Sunlight also reflects off the ground. Typically in a northern Thai village, the earth is a light color and creates a pleasing reflection. But if I have to work on grass we lay down some large sheets of white plastic to avoid having a green color cast in the images.

*Reading Irving Penn’s book “Worlds In A Small Room” was the inspiration for my portable studio which I have used in many locations in the mountains of northern Thailand and occasionally when teaching our workshops.

Portrait on a black background of a senior Pwo Karen man - how to use a reflector

A careful balance of reflected and diffused light.


As you practice using a reflector you will learn to manipulate just the right amount of light onto your subject. At times you might prefer hard light and other times soft light will be more pleasing. Learning to see how light affects your subject and learning to control it will greatly improve your portraiture.

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Filmmaker and photographer collaborate to show natural beauty of ocean waves

10 May

How do you capture the beauty of an ocean wave with a single still image? You turn it into a cinemagraph, of course.

After discovering the potential of the Puppet Warp tool in Adobe effects, Dutch cinematographer Armand Dijcks started to experiment with creating ‘cinemagraphs’ of images of moving water, using Flixel Cinemagraph Pro to create the infinitely looping animations.

After perfecting the technique, Dijcks reached out to Australian ocean photographer Ray Collins for source images. Their collaboration, titled ‘The Infinite Now’ can be viewed above.

Read more about the process of creating ‘The Infinite Now’

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Uninterrupted Views: Billboards Blended Into Their Natural Backdrops

03 Mar

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

desert X billboards 1

For just a split-second as you zoom by in your vehicle, you’ll catch the perfect alignment of 2D imagery on a billboard and the real, three-dimensional mountains in the background, eliminating advertising to refocus your attention on what’s really important. Set along Gene Autry Trail in California as part of Desert X, an outdoor exhibition of site-specific art installed across the Coachella Valley, the billboard series by Jennifer Bolande demonstrates an unusual form of camouflage.

desert X main

desert X billboards 2

The installation is particularly effective for the close placement of the billboards, which are glimpsed in quick succession. Real and artificial environments blend together in an illusion that’s particularly effective on a bright, sunny afternoon when the sky is at its bluest. The work is specifically made to be experienced from a passing car, drawing inspiration from an old Burma Shave ad that used sequential placement to create a message that could only be read from a moving vehicle.

desert x

‘Visible Distance/Second Sight’ is particularly effective in this desert environment, where most structures are low-lying and there are no towering trees. This setting ordinarily makes billboards pop out from the landscape even more than they would in a city.

circle of land and sky philip k smith

curves and zigzags

Other striking installations in the Desert X series include ‘The Circle of Land and Sky’ by Phillip K. Smith III, a composition of 300 geometric reflectors angled at 10 degrees to engage with the surrounding Sonoran Desert, and ‘Curves and Zigzags’ by Claudia Comte, a series of scuptural freestanding walls.

All photos by Lance Gerber Studio

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[ By SA Rogers in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

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Photographing Weddings With Natural and Available Light

14 Feb

As photographers, light is our raw material. It doesn’t really matter what we are trying to say or capture in an image – if we don’t have light we don’t have a picture! Light has to be the prime consideration and the quality, direction, color temperature, source, quantity (as well as a host of other variable factors) of the light Continue Reading

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Tips for Making Natural Light Portraits

26 Jan

Natural light portraits are honestly one of my favourites, they have this extra feel that studio portraits don’t. Compared to studio portraits, they are much easier – you don’t need to learn all the lighting techniques. They are also much cheaper, you don’t need to buy any strobes, flashes, or light modifiers such as soft boxes beauty dishes. Studio portraits are really fun but they are much more difficult than doing natural light portraits.

Starting off, making portraits with natural light is a first great step. It will enable you to work on your composition, your communication with your model, and help you build your confidence. Then you can decide whether or not you want to invest in studio equipment.

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Camera gear and settings

There are some simple tips and tricks to get the most out of your portraits with natural light. But let’s start with camera settings and camera gear first.

Shoot in manual mode

The ideal situation is to have total control over your settings, so I would highly recommend using manual mode. I recently wrote an article about using manual mode, so you can go check it out here; How to Use Manual Mode to Make Artistic Choices for Your Photography.

Shutter speed

You need a minimum shutter speed of around 1/100th of a second (or faster). This is very important as it helps you avoid blurry images as your model will be in constant movement most of the time.

Aperture and blurring the background

To get a soft background blur, you want to use the largest aperture possible – around f/4 works but the ideal would be f/1.8. If you want a larger aperture than f/1.8 the lenses can become quite pricey.

If you don’t have that kind of lens, you can still get nice results but separation (space) between the model and the background is needed. This really helps to drag the viewer’s attention to the model and avoid any unnecessary distractions. If you want to show the background behind your model then use a smaller aperture. I have an article on how to achieve background blur, I speak about bokeh in more detail there.

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What lens to use?

If you are using a long (telephoto) lens then a large aperture isn’t as critical because you will automatically have some background blur separation. Long lenses are the best for portraits because they compress the subject to background very nicely. Avoid wide angles lenses because they distort the subject’s face and amplify features like the nose or the forehead. Try to use lenses with a minimum focal length of 50mm with a full frame sensor and 35 mm with an APS cropped sensor.

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For the ISO, choose the lowest possible option taking in consideration that your shutter speed must be 1/100th of a second or higher. Using the light meter in your camera, you can get a fast shutter speed by adjusting your ISO if the lighting conditions are low. But, knowing that you will be using a larger aperture as well, that shouldn’t be a big problem.

Shortcut – Aperture Priority Mode

One tip I can give is to use Aperture Priority mode if you are a lazy photographer (or smart?) like me. During an outdoor shoot, the light will change frequently and you will need to adjust your settings whether it’s the shutter speed or the ISO (I usually never adjust my aperture).

When you are making portraits, you will get into the shoot very quickly and with manual mode you need to constantly change your settings. The probability of missing a lot of good photos because you forgot to adjust your settings is very high. It’s very frustrating when you get the perfect pose only to realize the image is way too dark or way too bright because your settings were wrong.

I gave up on manual mode because I always forgot, so I now only use Aperture Priority and raise my ISO to 400 to force my camera to use a fast shutter speed. Don’t make the mistake of using ISO 100 in Aperture Priority with low light and ending up getting blurry images.

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Use RAW files and underexpose

I recommend shooting RAW and underexpose your images slighting using exposure compensation.

This is very important because sometimes you will accidentally expose for the shadows and that will automatically overexpose your images. The problem with that is that you will lose all the information in the model’s skin tone and if those areas area burned you may not be able to recover detail there.

A RAW file also lowers the probability of losing any information in your image because you have a bigger margin of recovery. Since you are underexposing your images slightly, you will be able to correct the exposure later in post-production. It’s a bit technical but this is the best way to have all the necessary information in your image, burned-out pixels are the worst enemy a portrait portrait photographer can have.

Another solution is to turn on the highlight alert for your camera (most entry level cameras have this setting) and every time you take an image, the burned-out pixels (clipped highlight areas) will show up in red (or blink). This is very useful because every time you see this it means that there is no information in that area, it’s just a pure white point which is not recoverable.

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I underexposed this image to have all the detail in the skin.

Location and lighting conditions

One thing you must avoid is taking portraits with harsh light (during the day and facing the sun). This increases the features of the face (emphasizing any blemishes and flaws) with harsh shadows and the result is not flattering. One tip I can give you to help you determine if you will have good light for a portrait is to look at the shadows (on the ground) of people passing by in the streets. If the shadow is very harsh (strong outline), you will probably not get good light but if the shadow is very soft (fuzzy or undefined) then the light is perfect for making portraits.

One main aspect of natural light portraits is soft light. There are five different possibilities to get beautiful soft light on your model’s face.

Five lighting options

#1 – Use window light, it will give you a very nice soft light on your model’s face.

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Portrait taking using natural window light.

#2 – Take portraits during sunset, you will have the softest light possible.

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Portrait taken at sunset.

#3 – Take portraits on an overcast day, the sky will become a huge softbox with very soft light.

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Portrait taken during an overcast day.

#4 – Take portraits on a street where buildings or apartments are blocking the sun (like an alleyway).

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When it’s bright outside, try to look for buildings that block direct sunlight.

#5 – Use a light diffuser in the middle of the day, this will turn harsh light into soft light.

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The location doesn’t really matter because most of the time the background will be blurred, but the light is crucial so overtime you want to take a portrait make sure to have one of these different possibilities.


I hope that gives you some tips for making natural light portraits. Find a friend to pose for you and try it out. Please share your photos and questions in the comments section below.

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3 Reasons to do Headshots with Natural Light

10 Jan

I love natural light. I’ve probably said this before, but I prefer it to using studio lights. There’s something soft and beautiful about using the light generated by Mother Nature that makes it perfect for every occasion. I use natural light every chance I get. I even use it for my headshot sessions. You may be surprised by this but I’ve got some great reasons why. Read on to find out more.

Shoot Headshots with Natural Light

I have a 9-foot window in my studio. It’s perfect for natural light photography.

#1 – Natural light flatters every skin tone

From pale milk-white skin to dark chocolate brown, natural light makes everyone look beautiful. No matter the skin tone or the facial features natural light enhances everyone. Now I’m not talking about direct sunlight at midday. That type of light is too harsh. It washes out skin tones and creates harsh shadows. Set up your shoot in open shade. Use the side of a building or under a tree. You can even set up a canopy and shoot underneath. You will love the results, just be creative in how you use it.

Shoot Headshots with Natural Light

While the lighting behind this young woman isn’t natural. The light on her face comes from my 9-foot window. She used this shot in her modeling portfolio.

#2 – Natural light is cheap

If you are just starting out as a photographer, natural light doesn’t cost a whole lot to use. You can create beautiful head shots without fancy studio equipment. It’s a way to get your foot in the door. You might also be unique in your area. Think about branding and how being a natural light photographer might be a way to capture attention from potential clients. You could be the trendy alternative to the typical studio headshot.

Shoot Headshots with Natural Light

Taken outdoors against an old building. My client was looking for relaxed looking headshots for her LinkedIn profile.

#3 – Shooting outdoors is less intimidating

Think about all those giant light stands and softboxes. For someone who may be a little nervous about having their portrait taken, shooting outdoors can take off some of the pressure.

I find that generally, clients who are self-conscious or uncomfortable in front of the camera will relax more easily when I take them outdoors for a session. We chat for a while and generally need to walk a short distance to a location. It gives me a chance to take some of the pressure off them. The client starts to feel more comfortable and the overall look of the headshot is much better.

Shoot Headshots with Natural Light

While not your classic headshot pose, my client was relaxed and comfortable. She looks confident.

Professionals need to exude confidence in their images. They won’t be successful in their business if they look nervous or uncomfortable in their marketing materials.

As photographers, we have to visually communicate our client’s abilities

Remember headshots are all about creating an image. We are a part of the branding process for a company or a freelancer. You are helping to promote an actor or build a brand for a home stager. Your images should help attract potential business. It’s your job to tell people all about your client and their amazing abilities.

Shoot Headshots with Natural Light

As a real estate agent my client wanted a photo that associated her with the local area.

You can do this by taking beautiful and bright images that promote your client as a capable and highly skilled professional. Try using natural light in your headshot jobs. I think you will be pleased with the results. Also, remember that if you are offering a service that seems unique from all the others you can think about charging a little more for your highly specialized product.

Natural light is a great tool. I highly recommend utilizing it whenever you can. Please share your natural light headshots or any questions you may have, in the comments section below.


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