How to Find Beautiful Natural Light in Ugly Locations

It's easy to look around at local locations and think that you have no chance of creating beautiful, natural light portraits because of them. However, with the right positioning and knowledge, you will be able to create stunning images with great light.

Peter Coulson is a fantastic photographer and this video goes a way to demonstrate that. Incidentally, I once found myself in a position where I was on a paid shoot and were did not have anywhere to shoot outside. I remember the subject pointing out that we had just an ugly car park, but like the one in this video, it had some perks.

Firstly, again like this video, my car park was painted white. These white walls act as brilliant reflectors for the natural light and facing your subject to them can not only illuminate the face in a pleasing way, but it can create great catchlights in their eyes too. Secondly, if it's a bright and sunny day, the shade provided by car parks is also useful. You can shoot near the edges to get the natural light and bounce it with the white walls, but not have your model bathed in the boring midday sun.

If your surroundings are so ugly they would ruin your photo, try to get closer to your model and use as narrow depth of field as possible. If you can find a good background to blur out, you may well be on to a winner.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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Good light, but ordinary and therefore not a challenge. Why? He used three (four) tricks: He used black and white, do the same thing in colour, then you have your challenge and separated the subject from the surroundings by using a narrow focal plane. He also used a very soft indirect light, and once it's harder, it looks like it's coming through a window on a cloudy day. It's easy to do at home. He also used bright background light to make the picture more interesting (that doesn't have much to do with the subject).
That's just the basics and where we all start.
And then: There are no ugly places for photography. Have you ever heard of that? That's on Fstoppers, the original title of the video is about the search for light. I'm not sure about the "beautiful" part though.

The one thing i would say is the reflected background light can give a colour cast or part colour cast that could be tricky to remove. Maybe that's why his end results are in black and white..

Somehow the beautiful natural light always finds its place in ugly locations and I'm either taking additional pics of the background to do some Photoworks magic afterwards and merge the photos or just going with the portraits. Bouncing the light isn't something I'm good at yet but I've seen other people doing it and it's certainly one of the ways.