Ambient light in portraits is extremely useful to make a leap in quality that your portraits so far have been an almost locked into. This an advanced guide. Evaluation and the best possible usage of light is crucial for portrait photography, as well as for any other type of photography. If we need to photograph the situations that normally occur in everyday life or if for example we are beginning photography yet not ventured in buying an external flash, we will almost always have to use the ambient light.
Ambient Light in Portraits : Understanding the Basics
The sources of light that a photographer may have can be divided into two large families:
- Ambient light, which includes all kinds of light freely available in the environments, may be the sun outdoors, but can also be a lamp inside a house;
- Artificial light sources that are appropriately positioned and set as the flash attached to the camera, one or more flash suitably positioned and activated at a distance, and other specialized lamps of various types.
Choose, place, set the artificial lights in the proper way is a daunting task that requires extensive experience and advanced knowledge. Moreover, it is not always possible to have multiple flash or lamps or the time and space to arrange them correctly. Moreover, to obtaining the equipments can be quite expensive. There are also professional photographers who specialize in the use of only the ambient light for portraits. In this article, we will present to you a few tips, some tricks, to take the advantage of the ambient light only when photographing people. If you need other basic tips to make the most beautiful and most interesting portraits, you can read the articles with tips to improve your portrait photo and composition in portraits by using the Search Function in this website.
Ambient Light in Portraits : Spread the Light
Many believe instinctively that the optimum light is under the sun in the middle of the day. As we have seen, this is not true for landscapes (for more, read the article 10 basic tips for great photographs of landscapes) and perhaps is even less for portraits. This type of light has at least three large main shortcomings:
- Flattens the colors, reducing the saturation
- Casts very dark and too harsh shadows which are unsightly on the face and the body of the people
- Often forces to grimace and squeeze of eyes to protect from the sun – which is not really what is photogenic.
The soft light of a cloudy day, when shooting outdoors during the day, the hint for many is to seek a place in the shade, such as under a tree or in the shady side of a house or choose days when the sky is covered with cloud. If then we really have to stay under the sun, we try to make our subject to wear a hat. You will find easily that in these cases the light is much better. The main reason is that the direct sunlight is directed precisely, while when we are in the shade or under the clouds, the light is diffused and reflected so much softer. This type of light is perfect for many kinds of pictures and in particular is very precisely indicated for portraits. Similarly, if we are in and we want to take advantage of the light coming from a window, we use the curtains as speakers or, if there were, say an opaque tarpaulin on the glass.
Ambient Light in Portraits : Direction of the Light
In addition to ensuring the quality of light, you need to observe carefully the direction from which the light comes. If we have applied the previous method, the light will come mainly from the bottom, then the ground and sideways, for example because it is reflected from a wall. If you do some experiment, you will notice that the light at the sides, especially if it hits the face of the subject to be photographed at an angle of about 45 °, easily provides results very pleasant. At this point, the question arises : how do I make sure it has the correct angle of the ambient light ? Fortunately, the solution is very simple : as you can not move the light you have to move the subject.
Sometimes it will be sufficient to rotate the head to the right or to the left or bend slightly, sometimes will just move to another location. The same applies if the photo is taken inside. If we use the light coming from a window, we need to make sure that the subject is sitting with the cheek turned toward the window. If instead we use artificial lights, it is better to prefer the lights which you can move, much easier to handle than a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, of course. in real it would be much more complex, but this is a good starting point to begin to get a nice ambient light in portraits and from there starting to experiment begins.
Which Mode of Exposure metering is to Use ?
To understand this section it is essential that you read the article on the mode of exposure metering. Since in a portrait, of course, emphasis is given to the person framed, it is crucial that this last is exposed perfectly. Therefore, in many recommend to use the spot metering mode (or alternatively weighted center) and to measure the exposure of an area of exposed skin. This means, in the spot metering, move the point of focus, that is one in which the exposure is measured, on the face of the subject. But if you use the center-weighted metering is necessary to move the subject in the frame and then eventually lock the exposure (via button AE-L) and reassemble.