The last couple months we covered posing / positioning, from capturing a genuine smile and several tips on head positioning, to the perfect poses for your body, arms, and legs. But without the proper lighting, you can pull out every posing trick in the book and still have a poor photograph. So today we're going to talk about how to find beautiful light, anywhere.
Like always, general guidelines can be broken. But the best general light for portraiture is going to be directional light that is softened - so diffused or bounced light.
CLOUDY DAYS: Cloudy days can be a blessing in some cases, because you have the flexibility to use many locations at just about any time of day. But cloudy day light can also make photos a bit mushy because it's not directional light.
SUNNY DAYS: On a sunny day, you will see from the harsh sunlight that there are also harsh shadows. This light, especially mid-day, is very difficult light to work with.
The light we are looking for is directional and soft, so that means a sunny day, but a shaded location in which you can use the bounce light from sunny areas of the setting. Have you noticed that when you walk through a tunnel, as you get closer to the end of the tunnel, you are bathed in more light? Well, that registers in camera... as more light falls on you, you become brighter and the background becomes darker, creating more contrast between you and the background. The same thing happens when you walk closer to the edge of a shaded area like from under a tree or a pavilion - as you bring yourself closer to the source of the directional light, the light source becomes stronger and also softer as you come closer.
Sunrise or Sunset, hands down. There is no better time for portraiture than "Golden Hour" when shooting outdoors with natural light. Because the light has to travel through so many more particles in the air, it is super diffused and also adds a gorgeous warmth to your photographs. "Golden Hour" is the first hour of light after sunrise, and the last hour of light before sunset. This type of light is less contrasty, which helps to eliminate overly deep shadows and bright highlights. And, the low angle of the light also adds texture and depth to your scene. And a benefit you may not be thinking of... there are less people out and about at this time of day, especially sunrise - the sacrifice you make to get up early is 100% worth it. So if you want the location all to yourself, consider sunrise. Not sure when "Golden Hour" begins or ends? Ask your photographer, they'll know.
Whether it is a cloudy or sunny day, you can take a great portrait indoors by using a window or large glass door as your light source. As long as the light coming in the window is bounce light and not direct light, it will work wonderfully. Just be aware that back-lighting will affect your photograph indoors more strongly (so avoid a window behind you).
Just about any time of daytime will work, but mid day is going to be your brightest bounce light.
When the daylight just won't cut it, or you're going for a edgier look that requires more light control, that's where studio lights come into play. Most consumers have a camera with "on-camera flash". These are typically unflattering and uncreative because even though they can light your subject, they flatten everything. Professional photographers have the tools to set up and strictly control the light with studio strobes, in combination with natural light or without. It's really fun to see how you can change the atmosphere and mood of an image by just adjusting your light angle, coverage, and diffusion.