Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Available Light!

As a photographer, I like to tell people that I photograph with available light, that is to say I will use any light that I have available to me.  Which, in most cases, this consists of a bag full of speedlights and even a monobloc or two.  I have to admit that I consider myself a lighting photographer, meaning that more times than not I am going to augment the ambient light in any given scene with artificial light.  Personally, I like having the flexibility that artificial light brings to my photography being either work for clients or for personal projects.  Sometimes, the ambient just isn't there and if you shoot enough, sooner or later you're going to run in to a situation that a little artificial light would just make the whole day easier.

That being said, I try not to limit myself to only using artificial light as light is light, regardless where it comes from.  Sometimes, nice, overcast, soft, warm light is just hard to beat with artificial light so when I do get the opportunity, I like to try to make use of it.

Recently, I did a portrait session for a friend and beautiful young woman whom I've known for some time.  I did her senior portraits years ago and she was wanting some new photos of herself to share with her friends and family.  So we went through a variety of outfits and setups, mostly with strobes, but then we found ourselves in a park with some decent soft light and shade, so I thought I would step out of my comfort zone and try some natural light portraits.  I don't normally do natural light portraiture that often, but I found this mini session to be pretty enjoyable, and much easier than my usual light-balancing, maniacal act of balancing photons and numbers.

For all of these portraits, I switched lenses from my trusty (and beloved) Nikon 18-200 VR lens, to my little, nifty 50mm 1.8 lens.  These lenses are pretty much the only two I carry with me when doing portraits because they will cover everything I want to do, but for this natural light session, I wanted to shoot fairly wide open and let the background just go wherever it wanted, as opposed to trying to balance the exposure for my model and my background.

So I set my lens to around f/2.0-2.8 because I've found out that my 50mm is actually a little sharper when its not wide open and threw my camera in Aperture Priority mode then switched my metering mode to spot metering.  This setup gave me a little more freedom in that I can just shoot without worrying about shutter speeds and I chose spot metering because I knew it would keep my subject exposed properly while letting the background blow out a little hot.  I'm normally a little too anal to let my backgrounds blow out like this, but I thought I would just throw a little caution to the wind and see how it goes.  To my surprise, I actually liked just about all of these shots, and so did my model. :)

Another setting I used was continuous shooting mode as opposed to single frame.  I felt like this would give me a good opportunity to make sure that I catch several sharp images even with shooting at such a large aperture with a moving subject.  The only drawback to this was the incredibly larger than normal number of files I ended up with on my card.  However, since most of these all turned out nicely, I ain't gonna complain. :)  I also shifted my white balance to Cloudy because I tend to prefer warm skin tones as opposed to cooler ones.

As far as editing goes with this session, I did very minimal post work except to add a little contrast here and there, rotate the images and re-size for the web.  I also converted a few of these to black and white just for something different.

I don't think this 'style' of shooting is going to change how I normally work, but it was nice to try something different for a change and to work out of my comfort zone.  It yielded some good results for me and for my friend, with much less effort than I usually go through and gave me the opportunity to try to think outside of my proverbial box.

So the next time you're out shooting with a friend and don't have to worry about editors, clients, dollars or minutes, be sure to try something different if you have the time.  If you're a natural light shooter, then whip out a strobe or speedlight and try some artificial lighting.  If you're a long lens shooter, then try going with a wide lens, or even a fisheye!  You might find a new trick to stick in your back pocket for a later date, or even a new technique that you want to improve upon.


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