Everyone wants to take better pictures of family, friends, loved ones, kids, etc. But jumping into complex lighting setups and studio strobes, is a huge investment in time and money. Learning the foundations in portrait photography is essential for mastering it and adding on equipment for more complex shoots. The most basic foundation is learning about natural light portraits. When we simplify a shoot by only using the basics (one model and the sun) we can concentrate on building the foundations of portrait photography, camera technique, posing, composition, etc.
Today was like any other day in the South Bay, beautifully clear blue skies and a warm sun. Harsh light isnt very great for portraits, but in this class we teach the students to learn to identify the scene and make decisions to compliment the light, the scene and the subject. After a round of introductions and a short powerpoint on basic portrait technique, it was time for Ellie and myself to take the group out in the real world and let loose! So what do you do if you're stuck with harsh lighting conditions outside? We took the class around the grounds of our new location and placed our models in under the shade of the building and used the vines and closeups to achieve our portraits. To add a little extra light, we opened up some 5-in-1 reflectors and bounced some sunlight back into their faces to fill the shadows.
From there is was time to explain how to work in the harsh sunlight itself as theres a couple options. By placing our models backs to the sun, it provides a nice rim light around their bodies. If we turn the models into the sun, we need to add our trusty 5-in-1 reflectors again, this time using them as diffusers to soften the light from the sun and make the scene look more like a cloudy day. With a little tweaking in camera placement, body position, and diffuser positioning, Ellie and I had the group firing on all cylinders.
Another key factor in coming away with beautiful portraits is choosing the right background. By placing our subjects with obstacles behind them, like you might have in the real world, it forces us to move ourselves around the scene, to find the most pleasing background. It may look a little silly to see 10 photographers bobbing and weaving around, but its good practice for hiding unwanted objects, or making sure objects dont look like theyre coming out of someones head. Cranking the aperture open to widest also helps to force the background into a blur, but we also teach how to step back and zoom in to get the same effect for higher apertures as well.
In any event, a little over 2 hours of shooting later, and everyone comes away with lots of keepers, and a better understanding of how to start shooting natural light portraits!
Until next time...from Scott, Ellie and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
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