There is a common misconception that when it is cloudy or gloomy out, it is a bad day to take pictures. Many people believe that sunny equals bright and beautiful, and while that may be true in some cases, in portrait photography, it can actually make a photographer’s life tougher. Fortunately, Phillip Nicholas and I were able to utilize the post-rain weather and transform it into a lesson of soft lighting in portrait photography—showing our students how the clouds act as giant diffusers in the sky, softening the sunlight and creating fewer shadows. That’s where we started on Saturday with our morning class. After reviewing the basics on exposure, settings, and composition, we ventured outside, ran through a couple of poses, and sat our beautiful model, Lisa, in an area with a tough background to work with. It was then problem-solving time: what can we do in a situation where the background is less than ideal, but you have limited options around?
After a few minutes, the students were able to see the benefits of using a telephoto lens in cases like this. We were able to pull the background closer to the subject and really use small areas that worked well with a shallow depth of field. This was even more important to recognize when the sun began to peak out. Options became limited; finding the perfect natural light in harsh lighting conditions became the first priority.
Phil then took the opportunity to direct the group to an area with a building entrance shadowed in the background. Even though our eyes could make out the details of the hallway, the camera’s dynamic range is just not high enough to capture the shadow detail in the shade when the exposure is set to the model standing in the open area—it made a perfect natural dark backdrop. It just goes to show that if you know what you are looking for, perfect lighting coupled with interesting backgrounds can be found anywhere.
When the afternoon class came in, the sun decided to be completely indecisive: one minute peeking out, the next hiding behind the clouds. Again, it was a valuable lesson to the students on how to adjust quickly to different lighting situations. The fun really began when we positioned our model in an area littered with colorful fallen leaves. As I explained finding and using natural frames, Phil modeled the effectiveness of shooting from different angles. And when I say “modeled,” I’m talking about his crazy matrix maneuver while lying on the ground that ending up producing a gorgeous shot with the foliage. The students followed suit and the eagerness was contagious. No one cared about getting dirty; they were all hungry for that beautiful low angle shot (and they got it!).
The day ended with a stroll back to the classroom, smiles all around and light conversation on the lessons learned throughout the day. As the students packed up their gear, I reflected a bit on the day myself. I can honestly say, here at Aperture Academy, we find that beautiful natural light. We learn to bring out the best of our given backgrounds. We work with models in pose and expression. And most importantly, we have fun doing it!
Until next time…from Mary, Phil, 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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