Over the years I have spoken to many people about the art of portrait taking and specifically the use of flash. A few people have shown me images with the accompanying statement of "if I had better lights" or "if I had this bit of equipment", "then the shot would have been better". Well in a lot of cases this is not true. Some people miss the point of portrait taking, they are too interested in lighting, where to put the key light, how many lights should I use etc. Any connection with the subject is lost in amongst the technical babble. A photograph of an uncomfortable, bored subject is just that, no matter how many lights people throw at them.
This is where the problem lies, Many people have never taken a thoughtful portrait using just available light, before jumping in with the flash guns. Whilst doing my travel and documentary work I have honed my skills at taking portraits with just the light available at the time, as it is sometimes too intrusive to bang away with the flash. This has helped me to understand the value of a portrait, and how different lighting works and how to adapt to different lighting conditions. I know how my light should look and this is then transferrable into the studio or with using flash. I can now say to myself, "if the sun was in this position my portrait would look better, but I want to keep the background as it is, so I will introduce my flash here."
As most of you will know I have my own studio (for now), but this has not stopped me from utilising the lovely natural light that is available in the studio and in the corridors.
In a recent shoot with Jade I ventured out into the corridors of the studio building. I found a nice bank of frosted glass windows that were filling the place with a lovely light. I used this as key light for most of the shots, but I also took a couple that were filled in using the white wall. I was shooting with a 70-200mm so i was shooting wide open at f2.8 and occasionally f 5.6, at iso 400. For natural light portraits I love shooting wide open as much as possible.
These were taken on my latest shoot with Sithembile, I have already shown the shots taken with the studio lights in my previous post , but these were taken with just the light from the sky lights. again all taken at f2.8 on my 85mm, at iso 800. It was an overcast day the windows are frosted so it was really soft light.
If you are inexperienced with taking portraits, try mastering them using available light and perhaps a reflector. Using flash adds a complication to the equation which just adds to the negative of the experience. Just strip it back to you, your subject and the available light and you will begin to see an improvement in your portraits. Work with the light, move your subject to get the most out of it, the results can be just as spectacular as using flash. Check out the work of Steve McCurry, when it comes to using natural light for portraits there are not many better.
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