Mastering Natural Light: Essential Techniques for Stunning Portraits

The ability to manipulate and control light is a fundamental skill for any photographer, especially when working with natural light in outdoor portrait settings. Understanding how to shape and modify sunlight allows you to create dimension, depth, and mood.

Coming to you from Ashley Boring with Westcott Lighting, this informative video dives into the world of sunlight modification, offering valuable insights and practical techniques to enhance your portrait photography. Boring emphasizes the importance of understanding how to control the intensity and direction of sunlight, highlighting its impact on the final image. She explores various methods for modifying sunlight, including diffusion, reflection, and background darkening, demonstrating how each technique contributes to creating dynamic portraits.

The video begins by addressing the challenges of shooting in harsh, direct sunlight, which often leads to unflattering shadows and blown-out highlights. Boring suggests using diffusion tools, such as a large diffusion umbrella or a scrim, to soften the light and create a more even illumination across the subject. This simple yet effective technique helps to achieve a flattering and natural look, even in challenging lighting conditions.

Boring then explores the versatility of reflector panels in manipulating natural light. By bouncing sunlight off reflectors, photographers can redirect and control the direction of light, effectively adding a second light source to the scene. The video highlights the importance of choosing the right size and surface of the reflector based on the desired effect and lighting conditions. For instance, using a silver reflector can create a more dramatic look, mimicking the effect of off-camera flash, while a white reflector provides a softer fill light.

Finally, the video discusses the use of nets or scrims to darken backgrounds and create a sense of depth and focus on the subject. By selectively controlling the amount of light reaching the background, photographers can achieve a more dramatic and moody atmosphere, drawing the viewer's attention to the subject. 

Beyond the specific techniques discussed, Boring emphasizes the importance of experimentation and practice in mastering sunlight modification. By understanding how each technique influences the mood and quality of your images, you can develop your own unique style and approach to portrait photography. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Boring.

If you would like to continue learning about how to light a portrait, be sure to check out "Illuminating The Face: Lighting for Headshots and Portraits With Peter Hurley!"

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

Log in or register to post comments
1 Comment

Love the umbrella idea. TY