Hello, everyone! It’s Jennifer Valencia here with the fourth article on photography. The first three covered The Rule Of Thirds, Fill The Frame, and Leading Lines/Framing/Patterns. In this article, I’m going to talk about finding well-lit locations for portraits. Some photographers have access to amazing spots like fields of sunflowers or wildflowers, pretty streams and waterfalls or rustic barns. However, you can take gorgeous portraits around your own home, regardless of the background.
The most important rule for a location is LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT. You need to have nice diffused light on the face and in the eyes so you can get sparkling catch-lights. You must avoid light that gives harsh shadows under the eyes and nose, or dappled shadows that create patches of light and dark on a face. This can be very distracting in a photograph and takes attention away from the eyes and face. The prettiest location will be useless if the light is not good. And often the very best portraits are those with plain backgrounds, as long as there is gorgeous light in the face and eyes. The light is more critical than ANYTHING!
Use Your Patio, Doorway or Windowframe:
An example of good light can be found under a shaded outdoor patio. Ask your subject to stand under the shaded patio so there is no direct sunlight in their face. Then have them turn slightly to the left or to the right, and watch the catch lights in their eyes, and watch the space under their eyes. If you’re photographing a child, this may be trickier; you’ll have to wait until they turn on their own, or call them in a cute voice to get them to look where you want to. If you don’t have a patio, you can find a patch of shaded area under a tree or at the side of a building. You can even find a spot like this inside your house, next to an open door or window-shade. If there is light coming at an angle to the person and making their eyes light up, you can get a nice photo.
Use Fill Flash As Needed To Even Out Lighting:
When you see nice lights in the eyes and even lighting on the face, and there are no dark under-eye shadows, you’ve hit photographic gold! This is a good spot, lighting wise, to take your picture. You may want to take a picture here with and without fill flash. ‘Fill flash’ means ‘a little bit of flash’ to fill in dark spots and shadows on a face. It’s easy to add fill flash on a covered patio; just point your flash straight up at the roof and you should get some nice fill in the subject’s eyes. If you point the flash straight ahead, you may run into two problems. First, if there is a wall close behind the subject, you will get a harsh outline shadow behind the person which will not look good in the finished photo. Second, direct flash into a person’s face usually provides too much light, and can cause hot-spots of overexposed skin, red-eye, and pinprick catch lights (which don’t look as nice as bigger natural catch lights). If you are far from a wall, direct flash can work well as long as you dial it down so it’s not at full power. You may have to try several different setting to see what provides the appropriate amount of light for your situation.
Take The Time To Practice!
This sounds like it will take a lot of time, and it does at first. However, if you do this ONCE, even “wasting” good photo opportunities in order to test the light, you will have a solid understanding of how to take a good picture under your covered patio at that time of day. Next time you go out there with your child, you can pre-set your camera and have your subject stand in the spot that gives good catch lights and facial light. Because you’ve practiced before, you’ll be able to grab a couple of quick shots before the child gets bored or antsy and walks away. The more you practice in a particular spot, the better you’ll get at knowing how to set your camera for that exact spot, and you’ll get better pictures.
Here are some pictures from my covered patio. In this portrait situation I usually select: Aperture Priority with an aperture of f/3.5 or f/4.5, shutter speed default to 1/60 sec because I’m using flash, the external flash pointed straight up at the ceiling of the patio at full power, ISO set to 300 or 200. I stand about 6-8 feet away from my daughter, crouch down or kneel down so my camera is at her face level, zoom in, hold the camera VERY steady and braced against my body and face, hold my breath, and take the picture. If she moves, the picture will be blurry, so I try to catch her in contemplative moments or just take many pictures during her active moments so I can get a clean one.
Examples of Lighting On a Covered Outdoor Patio:
The picture on the left has the light I love. It’s diffused and even, and there are no hot spots or dark spots on her face. There are catch lights in her eyes. There are no harsh shadows on her face. The color looks natural. The picture on the right has less perfect lighting. There is a hot spot of exposure on her cheek, and her cheek is brighter than her eyes, which are slightly shadowed. Although I love the photo because it’s cute, I wish I had better lighting for it! These two pictures were take about a foot away from each other in the same backyard, same time of day, same light. The only difference? In the first picture she was facing out from the patio with her back to the house; in the darker picture she had her back to the yard and was facing the patio. You can easily see the incredible difference in lighting that can be achieved just by changing your direction to the sun and the light! And now that I know that good pictures under my patio = back to house/facing yard, I can take pictures there often and get that nice light in her face and eyes.
Focus On The Closest Eye:
I always pick the camera’s focus spot myself, and I focus on her eye that is closest to me. When shooting faces close up with a wide aperture, it’s VERY important to have the eyes be the sharpest part of the picture, or else it won’t look right. You don’t want a sharp nose and blurry eyes. Even cameras that can auto-find faces may choose incorrectly if you’re doing a close-up portrait at a wide aperture, so it’s a good idea to select it yourself.
Examples of Outdoor Portrait Lighting:
Here is another example. These two picture were taken on the same day, just feet from each other, just minutes apart. One has even diffused light and bright catch lights, the other has uneven lighting and shadows. I found a shaded area that still has plenty of ambient light bouncing in, and when I angled the subject the right way, light got into her eyes to provide catch lights. The second picture was taken just because she was being cute, regardless of the background and lighting. I’m not saying that the picture with uneven lighting is BAD. It’s really cute and it shows a fun moment. But when you’re trying to take a deliberate portrait and you have a CHOICE of where to shoot, always look for diffused, even lighting that gives good catch lights and doesn’t make shadows on the face.
Example: Shifting Your Angle Can Change The Light
And here’s an example of how different the light can be just by shifting your angle. These pictures were literally taken in the same spot, with the subject just facing different directions. In one direction, natural light fills her face and adds sparkle to her eyes; in the other direction, her eyes are shadowed and the light is not as even.
Always remember that LIGHT is the most important thing for your photo, even more important than a pretty location. You can take better pictures than people with stunning scenery…as long as you’re finding the good light and using it effectively. Remember to find diffused light that gives a soft even glow and lights up the eyes. Sometimes just facing a different direction or turning to the left or right can be the difference between great light and awful light. Use your fill flash as needed.
Please share your work! Link us up to a photo you’ve taken that has nice light or good catch lights for a photo…and tell us how you did it.
Thanks for reading, and happy shooting!