How to Shoot in Natural Light

Shooting portraits using natural light is sometimes a challenge.

The best situation is when the sun is behind clouds and your model is lit with very soft  and diffused light. This type of light is non-directional and it produces an effect of subject wrapping. There are no strong lights or shadows, therefore no details are lost. The unpleasant shadows under the nose and eyes are almost invisible. If the light is too soft, your model will lack any light accent and in that case you can use a fill flash.

When positioning your subject please remember that you never should have the sun pointing directly into your subject's eyes. It is the worst position. You should do exactly the opposite, have the sun come from your subject's back. That way it will nicely highlight your model's hair. And if you use  a fill flash to light the model's face, you will have a great exposure.

Even when your subject is facing the sun covered with clouds, use just a little bit of fill flash to brighten the eyes.

In front light situations there is no depth, no textures, and the details are washed out. In harsh direct sun light it is advisable to use a lens hood to protect your lens from sun rays and eliminate lens flare (the bright little circles or hexagons that appear on the image when you take photos with front lighting) and reduced contrast. When the light is hard, using a reflector will help to bounce some light back to the model's face and that light will not be as hard as directly from the sun. There are 5-in-1foldable reflectors that you can buy for about $30. Alternatively you may use a simple plain white board of a sufficient size.

Another way to take pictures under direct hard sun light is using a diffusion panel that usually comes in 5-in-1 reflectors. Naturally you will need an assistant who will hold the panel for you blocking the sun light.

Digital cameras offer much less dynamic range than film cameras. So in order to get your image without blown out areas in the bright day light, just go into shade.

It is a good idea to shoot in Aperture priority mode but pay attention to your shutter speed as well because it may increase when the sun is getting down and your photos may become blurry. If you see your shutter speed going over 1/60th of a sec, increase the ISO or switch to Shutter priority mode.

There are three elements that a photographer must understand when taking pictures: light, composition and subject. Every image has its appropriate light. If the light is not good, the photo will be a failure.

Side lighting can be used for separating the subject from a background. This trick can turn a common photo into a winner. The three-dimensionality of the subject: shape, texture, shadows, it all becomes more obvious.

Beauty Dish for Portraits

A beauty dish is a photographic lighting device which uses a parabolic reflector to distribute light towards a focal point. The light created by a beauty dish is between that of a direct flash and a softbox, producing a more abrupt shadow edge transfer than a soft box. It gives the image a wrapped, contrasted look, which adds a very dramatic effect. The combination of focused and diffused light allows a photographer to sculpt the light and create shadows on edges of the face, which serve to bring out the facial features. The intensity of the light falls off really quickly, creating drama when it’s needed, but not overdoing it.

The video shows different kinds of light that you can get from a beauty dish: with or without a reflector, using grids. The difference can be easily seen by the shape of the model's shadow.

Beauty dishes are great for portrait photography, especially for showing up good skin texture, good bone structure and producing sexy shots that ‘pop’ in fashion and glamour photography. However even the cheapest one will cost at least $100. There are a number of DIY tutorials teaching you how to make a beauty dish from inexpensive materials on your own. Check this one. You can also use your external flash with a handmade beauty dish.

How to Shoot a Reportage eBook

Enzo Dal Verme, a well travelled photographer, has written a structured and inspiring manual on photography reportage.

It is mainly aimed at those photographers who want to enter the publishing market and produce quality photos that editors are likely to buy.

His manual “How To Shoot A Reportage” covers a variety of topics designed to help photographers to create impactful images with an eye to the publishing market. There are about 70 pages in the ebook with lots of illustrations (Enzo's own images).

Even professional photographers will find some useful tricks for their next shooting trip.

You need to produce a story with hot subjects. It will be helpful if you get inspired by the subject and do some research prior to the shooting. Try to choose a unique theme that can easily be sold to editors. If the story you have in mind is too complicated to do at the moment, put it in your wish list for a future job. These are some of the topics that Enzo covers in his ebook. It also explains the technical stuff: travel preparations, photo gear, photography tips, scheduling your shoot, delivering your work, etc. What I like about this book is that it is so well structured and it answers almost all questions I used to have.

Read more about this ebook and purchase it here: [It is not an affiliate link]

TTL Metering and Exposure

TTL means "through the lens". This is the method of metering the light that comes to the camera's sensor through the lens. Any digital camera has a built in light meter which is used to set the correct esposure (shutter speed and aperture settings) at a given ISO. It is a reflection light metering system, i.e. your camera measures the light that is reflected from a subject, a house for example. The meter gets all the light and blends it to an 18% gray. You can change the way your camera mixes up the received light in order to produce 18% gray.

Main metering modes:

  • Spot metering. Your camera uses a very small spot of the frame to calculate the exposure. Usually a central spot of 1-5% of the whole scene in size. Some cameras allow you to move that spot off the central position. This mode is used when you need to focus on one specific area of the scene, for example if there is a strong back light, you cannot use the whole frame as your subject will be too dark. So it is quite an advanced metering mode.

  • Partial metering. It is similar to teh spot mode but the area used for light calculation is bigger, usually 10 to 15% of the frame. It is also used when you need to exclude some really bright areas of your image, the sun for example.

  • Average metering averages the whole scene to produce 18% gray and often it does not work well. If you have the sun in one corner, this mode will make the whole image underexposed because it used the bright sun for its calculations. Camera manufacturers know about this disadvantage of the average mode and they created a Center-weighted average metering, which covers a centrally located area of 60-70% of the image.

  • Matrix or Evaluative metering. Modern cameras with powerful digital processors have this mode. The frame is split to several zones and the processor computes how these zones are lighted. If one zone is overlighter with the sun for example, the computer knows that it should not take this brightness for its calculations. This mode  is recommended for those who strat their photography.

The metering system is not too sophisticated and can be fooled by very dark subjects, if you photographing a group of people in black suits, your image will be overexposed because the camera does not expect the black color, it expects 18% gray. The same is true when taking photos of snow, it will be underexposed. The camera does not expect all that white color, it expects middle gray and it reduces the amount of light that comes to the sensor.

You can use exposure compensation or a light meter to correct your camera's mistakes.

Exposure compensation range of adjustment goes from +2 to -2 EV in 1/3 steps. So you can adjust the exposure measured by the light meter by telling the camera to allow more light in (positive exposure compensation) or to allow less light in (negative exposure compensation).