It’s hard to believe that summer break is coming to an end soon. As a teacher, I am reminded of that as soon as August rolls around. I got to spend the final day of July teaching what I love to a group of students eager to learn about portrait photography. Our Natural Light Portrait Photography class is always fun because it’s the perfect class to apply the fundamentals I teach from the intro course. I see the gears turning in my students' heads as they work on exposure, focus, and composition in their camera, all while directing and positioning our subject.
As always we started with a review of the fundamentals, such as the exposure triangle, types of autofocus, and composition. Those who have been in my class before know how much importance I place into understanding the camera—making specific decisions to obtain the image you are envisioning rather than just creating a happy accident. Although happy accidents are great when they happen as well!
After the review, we went outside and photographed our model, Andon. First, seeing how it was just after midday, we experimented with lighting. Direct sunlight can be tricky to deal with, but the secret is positioning. We started with front lighting Andon, which was not very comfortable for him since he was staring right into the sun. On top of that, there was a lot of contrast and some harsh shadows below the brow, nose, and chin. So we moved on to side lighting, where the problem morphed to uneven lighting. Half of Andon’s face was suddenly really bright while the other half was in shadow. We were finally able to achieve even and soft lighting by positioning the sun behind Andon. At first blush, it may seem like backlighting will “darken” the subject, but as long as you expose correctly, the indirect light on the subject's face will be even, not dark.
Next, we focused on positioning, posing, and composition. There is a nice brick wall just outside the office that can be used as a backdrop and as a prop for Andon to lean on. If Andon leans against it and faces toward the office door, the lighting is extremely spotty. But simply changing our perspective and facing Andon away from the door gets that nice backlight to where no harsh light is filtering through the trees and hitting his face. It was a great opportunity to have Andon relax against the wall while we experimented with different angles.
We walked over to the courtyard area next where I had the students take the lead, reminding them to direct Andon where there was great light and great backgrounds. They had the right idea positioning him under a tree for shade, but ran into the issue where the background came out extremely overexposed. We readjusted by changing our perspective until the background behind Andon was also a shaded area. What did we get after? Soft light with even exposure! I coupled my frame with a telephoto lens to really compress the image and get the optimal background.
After getting some different perspectives of Andon under the tree, we walked further into the courtyard in a completely shaded area by the fountain. There, we were able to position Andon in multiple areas and got some amazing shots of him sitting. We ended the day with some continuous shooting and focusing. Andon walked the runway for us as we practiced getting him in focus using AF-C or AI Servo. It was a great way to end the class––we were even able to get a smile with teeth out of Andon!
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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