As we approach the end of the year, I reflect on all the changes 2021 brought, especially to the Natural Light Portrait class here at Aperture Academy. It was definitely a change to greet masked students and teach with my smile hidden, but I’m grateful to those who were willing to venture out in a pandemic and explore the wonders of portrait photography with me. Our last class of the year consisted of two amazing students, both energetic and experienced in photography. This was a great change of pace as I focused more on practicing skills and less on the review. We went over the exposure triangle, the importance of depth of field, and some composition techniques before heading out to photograph our model, Mary.
The afternoon light was pretty low as we were approaching sunset, so the first thing we did was test out direct lighting in the sun. I had Mary position herself with front light, side light, and finally back light. Since the sun was lower in the sky, front and side lighting had softer shadows. If it was earlier during the day, the harsh light would create more unwanted contrast. Back lighting, however, produces the same indirect light that works well. With the sun so low, however, we practiced shading our lens to get rid of the haze and sun flares.
After testing the light, I had the students move to an area to work with Mary. With light and background taken into consideration, where was the best spot to place our subject? We found some different areas with great backlight as well as explored using different f-stops to get a sun star peeking out of a tree. Next, we moved onto headshots and used the range of the camera as a tool to help get solid studio-like backgrounds. Since the camera can only see a certain range of shadows and highlights, we positioned Mary in front of a building wall in shade—using a big aperture to blur the background, we were able to make the wall a solid dark background to contrast with Mary’s gorgeous blonde hair.
I tagged Mary out when demonstrating posing for headshots. I know I have the tendency to throw my head back while I laugh, so it was perfect to model how to prevent the unflattering look by tightening my jawline. Little tips such as turtling the head out or dipping the front shoulder goes a long way.
We headed across the street to work on some framing and creating leading lines. Nature is always a great counterpart to include in environmental portraits, and it can be used to direct a viewer’s eye to the center of interest. Using a row of trees and the negative space between them, we were able to create both leading lines and a natural frame. In addition, we had some fun photographing through some branches for a more intentional frame as well. We finished the class with some moving images, changing both our focus mode and area mode in order to properly focus on Mary walking toward us, and before I knew it, we took our group shot, and I was bidding my two students a farewell. I have no doubt that they will continue to add to their already heavy photography tool belt as they continue to practice and perfect their craft.
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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