Managing existing light sources

Creating a natural-light photo means learning to work with light on its own terms. You have to take your model and camera to where the good light is. Great painters of the past preferred the light coming through a north window for their portraits, especially in the early hours of the day. Try this positioning for your existing-light portraits.

To adjust your composition's lighting you have to reposition the model, the camera, or both. But you're not as powerless as you think. You can turn overhead lights on and off, open and close window shades, move table lamps around, and take lampshades on and off. The most common problem in existing-light photography is a shadow darkening the model's face. Try turning your subject at a different angle to the incoming sunlight, or pull over a table lamp to illuminate the dark area.

You can also find a reflector and position it so that light bounces off the reflector onto the dark side of the model's face (Figure 3-7). A reflector is a common piece of photographic gear; it's essentially a big white shiny surface on its own pole. If you don't have lighting equipment sitting around the house, but you really want this portrait to look good, just rig a big piece of white cardboard or white foam board to serve as a reflecting surface.

Figure 3-7. In this existing-light portrait, notice how the tones trail off quickly from light to dark, which is typical illumination from a window. To brighten the shadow areas, use a reflector to bounce the light back toward the mode. You can try a flash for fill light, but be careful not to ruin the mood of the scene. Your best bet is to use the nighttime flash mode, to preserve some of the scene's ambience.

Figure 3-7. In this existing-light portrait, notice how the tones trail off quickly from light to dark, which is typical illumination from a window. To brighten the shadow areas, use a reflector to bounce the light back toward the mode. You can try a flash for fill light, but be careful not to ruin the mood of the scene. Your best bet is to use the nighttime flash mode, to preserve some of the scene's ambience.

Once you've balanced the tones, take a picture and review your results. Shadowed areas usually look darker to the camera than they do to your eyes. If so, move the reflector closer to brighten the shadows. In this type of photography, you learn to look at the lighting the way the camera would see the scene, not the way you would normally view it. See the box in Section 3.2.2.3 for more advice.

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