BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Megan McKenzie
 

natural light portrait photography


I am just starting out and I am wanting to photograph infants and children. I am learning more and more evryday but I am still just an ameture. I am not very confident in my work but my family and friends seem to love them. Are they just trying to be nice. I have a 3 light little studio in my basement but now I am hearing more and more about natural light photography. I spent so much time trying to figure out my lights that I don't know the first thing about natural lighting. I do know that I have the perfect are for it though. My unused livingroom is 470sq feet vaulted ceiling and HUGE windows. What camera settings would you tipically use?, are your white backgrounds white?, are your black backgrounds really black?, do you have your subject facing the window or is the window to the side of them?, do you get shadows?, what equipment do I need?. What do you think makes a better picture for infants and children, natural lighting, or studio lighting? Sorry for so many questions but any help I can get I would really appreciate.
I have asked a few questions on other posts and everyone has been so helpful and kind.
Thank you,
Megan


To love this question, log in above
1/23/2006 9:38:26 PM

 
Denyse Clark
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/2/2002
 
 
  Self portrait natural light from a N. window
Self portrait natural light from a N. window
© Denyse Clark
Canon EOS Digital ...
 
 
Hi Megan!
Well, first of all you are in a better position than you think in my opinion- most people on this site are begging to learn studio lighting & you already have that down! Natural lighting is fun, I do most of my work with it (due to lack of owning studio lights!).

I think you are off to a good start by looking at your gallery. I'm learning too, and posing is something I'm working on now since it impacts the photo so much. Your pics just need some tweaking with that and you'll be in great shape!! (for instance, the baby shots w/ the wings are cute, but I miss seeing the babies face- also, when a baby is on its stomach, a black background makes it seem like its flying through space :)

What camera/lenses are you using now? Are you shooting in manual modes? You shouldn't need any special equiment for working in natural light, execpt maybe a reflector to fill in some shadows. (I use white foam board from a craft store)

How you pose the person in relation to the light depends on the effect you want. My favorites with window light have the subject angled in at about 45 degrees towards the window. I'll upload a couple of them here.

I'm still trying to get backdrops myself, and everyone says black velvet works GREAT. No shadows!! Too expensive and not wide enough in my craft store, but I also read that a black Vellux blanket will work just the same. I was able to order one in King size through JC Pennys for about $40. I'm waiting for it to arrive. I'm also planning to get white. From what I've read, you avoid shadows by putting the subject FAR from the background, like 6-10 feet. Don't know from experience, just what I've read.

I don't work with a lot of infants or children, but I've seen people do both studio lights and natural and often it's hard to tell how it was lit. I wouldn't worry so much about that, if you're getting good results in the studio, then stick with it and work on your poses. If you want to try some in natural light, I'd do just that- take some test shots & see how you like it. If you get shadows on one side, use the reflector to shine some light to that side. (you need someone to hold it unless you have something on a stand that you can turn/twist)

This site is great, isn't it! So much helpful information. Happy shooting!


To love this comment, log in above
1/24/2006 8:21:57 AM

 
Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Megan;

All your questions might require a whole book. LOL
Knowing how to do something and typing it out is another matter; probably why I've never written a book. ;)

To answer one of your questions concerning which is better: Studio lighting is always best for portraiture for many reasons, the biggest one is that YOU are in control and the results are reproducible time and again. Outside you contend with weather, color casts etc...I'll leave it at that or now.

2) Background colors are usually selected based on )what, who, effect you desire) and colors your subjects are wearing.

3) Reflectors are indeed used to fill in shadow areas, but there are several types. A large smooth white card is great for redirecting light as much as possible.
Diffusion reflectors will reflect light AND soften it.
Colored reflectors simply add color. Gold is a favorite of many as it "warms" flesh tones. There is "flat" gold and "crinkle" gold. One throws a lot of light, the other diffuses it some.
I use all when I shoot people outdoors.

Then we have diffusion "screens" that are used above, to the side etc..of the subject.

Next we have light "blockers" and/or modifiers. Do a internet search on (scrims) and (gobos)

Here's a simple little excercise:

Go to the room where your subject will be positioned. Make a fist. See how the light falls on your fist..look at the shadows as you move your fist.
Even better, use a doll, they don't complain and work real cheap! LOL
Position your reflectors in various places and "see" how the light falls.

What you DO NOT want is direct sunlight striking your subjects.
Mid day might be good when the sun is high, yet lighting your room nicely.
Many photogs like a room with a northern exposure, as color shifts are not so pronounced from hour to hour.

One of the biggest problems with indoor natural light is usually not enough of it.
You may be forced into shooting large apertures, (not the best for sharpness), or slower shutter speeds, (not good if your subject moves.

I'm not sure if this was any help to you or not, but lighting, be it studio strobes, outdoor natural, indoor natural, can be very complex.

Start simple: Large window light and maybe two white reflectors.
Trying to use many reflectors, scrims, gobos etc might frustrate you, and you may find after a few hrs of set up; that you can't reproduce the lighting you just did a week later.
Take good notes as you set up.


All the Best,

Pete


To love this comment, log in above
1/24/2006 8:10:23 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Greetings Megan: While I agree completely with Pete's technical offerings, I'll offer something a bit more fundamental.

What I encourage my students to do (when I'm fortunate enough to teach) is to race down to the local library, head to the fine art section and start pulling books by artists like Matise, Rembrandt, Cezanne, Edward Hopper, and others. Study their portraits and really look at them carefully. Analyze where the light was coming from and how they placed their subjects to take advantage of that light. With a little effort, you'll see whether they had two light sources, i.e., a skylight and window, or 2 windows, or a window and a candle perhaps.

Back then of course, they didn't have strobes or even incandescent lighting. (Well, Hopper did). Their light controls were the horizon, furnishings and drapes.

You have the added advantage of using reflector cards for fill or even main light sources. Rig one at a time and study the effects on your subject. Also, learn to anticipate how the light will be as the angle of the sun changes.

Early morning or late afternoon sunlight is great to work with, indoors or outdoors. Soft, golden, diffuse. Or learn how to use warming filters to produce a similar look under softer light. Posing someone adjacent to a table lamp is fine, but incandescent lights may appear yellow and so a little filtration to clean them up is useful, but don't entirely lose the golden glow of the lamp (if you're working in color). For black and white, you can clean up an incandescent light using a yellow #12 or 15 filter.

Lastly, instead of the run-of-the-mill muslins you can buy, either make your own or find an house painter willing to part with one of his badly used drop cloths. They wash up nicely and have random patterns that would be hard to duplicate.

Also, get some large sheets of fomecore (cheap) at a local camera store or art supply store. Usually in 4x8 or 4X10 foot sheets, they can be black on one side and white on the other. Use those for reflectors. Get a couple of white ones and a 1 gallon bucket of dry wall texture and a 6" broad knife. Dive into the bucket and start smearing it thinly on your fomecore in swirling and random patterns. Makes a very neat textured background that can be painted and repainted if you like.

Take it light.
Mark


To love this comment, log in above
1/24/2006 8:49:16 PM

 
Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  or if you're anything like me you'll ask "who is rembrandt?" while studying stuff and maxim!


To love this comment, log in above
1/24/2006 9:57:50 PM

 
Rebecca A. Steed
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/6/2005
 
 
 
I'm going to throw in my 2 cents here. I'd love to someday buy studio lights, but right now, I use my large window in the living room, set up my backdrops and it's working good for me. The great thing about natural light is what you see is what you get. Cloudy days are always best, wether indoors using window light or outside. Last months grand prize winner was made with natural light from a window.
But remember that white backdrops can come out pretty grey, so post production in photoshop will be likely. Hope I helped. If you are looking for a great continuing conversation about studio photography, check out an ongoing forum called Studio Photography part #13.
Also, you've got to have some kind of confidence in your work if you expect others to pay you for your services. Take pride in what you do, but be open to suggestions and critiques.


To love this comment, log in above
1/25/2006 6:34:22 AM

 
Rebecca A. Steed
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/6/2005
  I'm going to throw in my 2 cents here. I'd love to someday buy studio lights, but right now, I use my large window in the living room, set up my backdrops and it's working good for me. The great thing about natural light is what you see is what you get. Cloudy days are always best, wether indoors using window light or outside. Last months grand prize winner was made with natural light from a window.
But remember that white backdrops can come out pretty grey, so post production in photoshop will be likely. Hope I helped. If you are looking for a great continuing conversation about studio photography, check out an ongoing forum called Studio Photography part #13.
Also, you've got to have some kind of confidence in your work if you expect others to pay you for your services. Take pride in what you do, but be open to suggestions and critiques.


To love this comment, log in above
1/25/2006 6:34:33 AM

 
Log in to respond or ask your own question.