There are many ways to do a portrait or rather, to light a portrait and not all of them are tremendously complex. In fact, many of the great portraits have been taken with natural light and an extremely good photographic eye.
I am among those who think that, during a portrait session, the hard part lies in connecting with the person you are taking a photograph of rather than the technical aspects of said portrait, mainly due to time restrictions. For this reason, it comes very much in handy to have simple yet effective resources up your sleeve.
In this entry I’ll explain 3 ways in which to do portraits with nothing more than natural lighting, the elements you have at hand (regardless of where you are) and a small off-camera flash with a remote trigger.
For example nº 1 all you need is a white wall (or any solid-coloured wall) to use as a background and a (or a couple) of large windows that you’ll need to leave wide open to allow the light to fill the room from one side. The large source of light will result in soft, flattering shadows
To emphasise the softness, in this shot I have set the aperture to f/2,8 with ISO 400 and a shutter speed of 1/125 s using a Fuji X100 camera.
It doesn’t get much easier than this. The advantage of this simple setup is that you can move your model or yourself to find the composition or expression that you want without worrying about changes in the atmosphere of your portrait.
For example nº 2 I wanted harder shadows to give the photograph more contrast and a slightly more dramatic effect.
How to do it? Easy: by closing the curtains to make the light source smaller. In doing so, the light is more concentrated, creating harder shadows. You’ll get a darker background and be able to give your model more contrast.
In this case, as you can see, I have included the curtains in my frame, but you can also place your model further away from the window so that the curtains are not visible. The result will still be the same.
The camera configuration for this shot is: f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/125 s Fuji X100
In the 3rd example I have created a situation in which there is not enough natural light available. In this case I have added a small off-camera flash and remote trigger to my set.
People often think that when there is no/not enough natural light, it is necessary to use light modifiers like windows or umbrellas to be able to get the same result as the above examples.
Whilst it they are indeed useful, they are by no means essential.
With the off-camera flash, all you need to do is point it towards the ceiling. This will cause the light to bounce off of it and create a large source of light with the same soft lighting effect. If you’re a beginner in using a flash, don’t worry, the configuration is easy and only requires a little bit of trial and error. Furthermore, it’s a good stepping-stone to experimentation with artificial lighting. The results are great and the gear you need is the simplest one available.
The camera configuration for this shot: f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/500 s, flash YONGNUO 560 at 1/8 power, Fuji X100
With these 3 easy techniques you’ll be able to take flattering portraits no matter where you are and more importantly, without having to lug around a lot of material. Now all you have to do is go out (or rather in) and practice!
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