Secrets of Producing Pictures With Minimal Equipment
by Michael McGowan
Have you ever noticed how beautiful things look at sunset or, in the case of Dave Hall, at sunrise? Sure, the color of light is wonderful. But that's also when light shines across objects at its lowest angle.
The next time you're talking with someone next to a window, notice the translucency of that person's irises. When you're sitting with somebody in a darkened theater or family home theater room, just glance over at whoever's next to you and note the wonderful light on the person's face.
Those lighting situations are all gorgeous. And you can take advantage of the way we perceive things to incorporate them into your photographs.
First, light coming in from the side and slightly higher than eye level casts a pleasing set of shadows across most faces. (Note I said most. Some people do NOT profit from this.) Lots of under-eye shadows disappear. The bone structure is enhanced. And eyes seem to sparkle.
Several inexpensive methods for recreating that light are available to us just about all the time:
1. A window with curtains opened. You don't really want direct sunlight, so a northern window is best. If you can't avoid a window with direct sun, just place the model outside of the main shaft of light. You can still get nice light there, with nearly all the same character of diffuse window light.
2. A porch or carport. With wide-open access to the open sky, you've also got an opportunity for soft, uniform light.
3. Open shade. If you're under trees, get the model to turn sideways to the light source. That should produce good "modeling."
4. Strobes. Even if you're using an old-fashioned flash unit with no modeling lamp, you can come up with some remarkably good lighting situations by bouncing light off a wall or off the white side of a reflector placed on a wall. Even a nice-size piece of white construction paper or matte board will work well.
5. The real thing: Outdoor lighting at sunset or sunrise.
Each of these situations offers its own delights.
Nobody has come up with anything better than old-fashioned north light. And digital cameras with a "cloudy" white balance take full advantage of the situation, warming flesh tones without requiring filters or any other adjustments.
I have yet to find a model who looks awful in diffuse window light. It may happen one day, but I doubt it. Using porches, carports or other similar structures simply opens the window a little more.
In both cases, it's important to have the subject's face cheated toward the window. You can adjust the person's posture, position and head tilt to provide a nice, balanced light treatment.
Open shade is where photographers like to redirect sunlight to provide a harsh and unforgiving light. A better choice often is to use the white side of the reflector much closer to the subject. Again, move the reflector off to the side.
Strobes can be too strong in small rooms, but most modern ones can be dialed back to produce nice lighting without overpowering. Besides, a battery's charge will last longer.
At sunset, you may need to do the opposite of adding light. Using a small scrim or gobo to block light. This will create light akin to the open porch.
<<-- BTW, if there IS harsh sunlight, and you have miniblinds, you can create this look.
So, the next time you're lamenting your lack of those mega-watt strobes, just remember that Mother Nature provides us with some pretty interesting light. Even if you have to add a reflector or scrim, it's still the cheapest light going... And some of the best.
With more than 30 years' experience in journalistic and art photography, Michael McGowan has had to learn to make use of the basics to create interesting images. He currently lives in Ohio, where there often is no unfiltered sunlight, so he can leave his Fuji S2 set on "cloudy" most of the year.You can see more of his work at his websites www.femmefete.com and www.femmexotique.com
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