Ahhhh… comfort zones. Warm. Cozy. Stress free.
I’m currently taking a Lighting & Portraiture class, and I must say I was pretty darn happy when the first homework assignment was to take a portrait using exclusively natural light. Seeing as I’ve specialized in natural light portraiture for several years now, this first assignment was right up my alley. You want me to take a portrait using natural light? No problemo.
Now I will admit, it was verrrrrrry tempting to simply bring in some already prepared images from my Studio B Photography business. However, that would not only be cheating, it would be self-defeating and I wouldn’t be learning anything new. As such, I decided to put a twist on natural light portraiture that would make it challenging for me, or at least a little different than my current modus operandi…
My style is to shoot exclusively on location, using urban or natural backgrounds as key components of the composition. I never use artificial backdrops for my portrait photography. For the most part I find them cheesy. However, I do own 3 studio backdrops – one white, one black, and one with black & white scrolls…. not very extensive and not very exciting. The black one and the white one came with a cheap-o kit I bought many years ago. The black & white scroll backdrop I won as a door prize during a children’s photography class I attended (ironic that I won it since I was probably the only photographer in the class that really never uses artificial backdrops). Anyway, because I don’t typically shoot ‘studio style’, I decided I should try to achieve that look for this first assignment.
Just because I was committed to trying something new for this assignment, doesn’t mean I spent a lot of time planning things out. Let’s just say I was a little more spontaneous about the whole thing – you know, the type of spontaneity that arises when you’ve procrastinated so long that your only choice is be spontaneous? Yeah, that kind of spontaneous.
So this is how things played out…
First, I needed a studio. As I mentioned above, I’m strictly an on location shooter, so I don’t own a studio and I don’t know how to get one on short notice. But I do have a garage, so that became my makeshift studio for the afternoon. I simply opened up my garage door and let the sun stream in to act as my light source.
Second, I needed a way to hide the ugly walls of my garage. I dug out my old wrinkled black backdrop (told you I never used it) and hung it up. I decided to place my backdrop in two different positions to take advantage of the natural light streaming in.
- Position #1: I placed the backdrop directly opposite the open garage door and just inside the harsh shade line created by the sun streaming in. The bounced sunlight from the floor acted as my main light source, and reflected sunlight from a white car acted as my fill light
- Position #2: I placed the backdrop at a 90° angle to the open garage door. In this position, my main and fill light sources remained the same – floor & car reflections respectively – but the direction of the light shifted 90°.
Here’s a visual on my set up:
My shanty-town studio was ready to roll. Now all I needed was a model. Cue my tall, good looking 18-year old son. As soon as he gets home from school, I was like ‘Dude come out to the garage with me, I need to take some photos for my photography class.’ I won’t say he was thrilled, but he was willing. Such a good guy – his mama taught him well!
I set my camera to Aperture Priority (my favorite setting), f/1.4, ISO 100, and I shot in spot-metering mode, metering for the skin. We rolled through a few of my favorite go-to poses, and the whole ‘session’ took about 15 minutes. It’s important to work fast with an 18-year old!
Here are the results:
So that wraps up homework assignment #1. Our next homework assignment is to shoot using artificial lighting (i.e. flash, speedlights, strobes, etc). You know that comfort zone I was talking about? Looks like I’ll be stepping out of it…should be interesting!