The concept of using ‘natural light’ always seems to make new photographers wary; natural light is actually an excellent tool to use when trying to shoot portraits of family and friends. It is about learning how to work with different types of natural light and making different scenes interesting that can make a fun portrait. At the Aperture Academy Natural Light Workshops, we are able to hone in on these techniques to see the best ways to utilize our ever present and free tool – natural light!
The workshops started out with finding a good “go-to” setting. We started at aperture priority mode (aperture value mode) with f/5-5.6 as our aperture, ISO 400-640, and exposure compensation at 0.0. In this mode, we learn that the camera chooses the shutter speed for you, so it is one less thing to worry about. However, we also learned that if we need to control our shutter, we can either raise our ISO or add light through our exposure compensation. Raising the ISO too high would give us digital grain so it was a question of how far up we wanted to bring our ISO before adding light via our exposure compensation. This was a good all-around setting to start with because it generally works best with 1-3 people and with most types of natural light in shade/not direct sunlight.
One of the obvious types of light we deal with when outdoors is direct sunlight. Direct sunlight on a subject’s face can cause unflattering “raccoon eyes” (harsh shadows under the eyes, mouth and nose). Alicia and I explained that when shooting in natural light, it is important to choose the direction your subject is facing. If your subject has sun directly in their face, they have harsh shadows on their faces and they squint because the sun is in their eyes. A tip we showed the students was to place the sun behind your subjects instead of in front of them. This gives them a nice even light on their faces as well as a pretty rim light around their hair.
Using our 5-in-1 reflectors to add and fill light on our subject’s faces was another way to control harsh sunlight or harsh shadows. We also used the diffuser and had the sun go through it, creating a nice glow of even light on our subject.
In terms of composition, we focused on using the rule of thirds, which is to place your subject in either the left third of your frame or right third of your frame. This provides a professional aesthetic to your image. It also lends to narrative as you give your subject (which occupies positive space as the main focus) negative space to look into. A rule in choosing aperture for our subjects was how much depth we wanted – what we wanted in focus. So if our repeating background (pillars, windows, etc) was important to use in the narrative, we set a bigger number for our aperture f/8, f/10, f/16. If we wanted to isolate our subject, we used a smaller aperture f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4. We practiced using the S Curve in our subject’s bodies to create lines that lead to their faces.
The workshops flew by fast and it was great to learn how to utilize natural light that is available to us. It was also fun to discuss what kinds of lenses would be the best for portraiture (don’t forget www.borrrowlenses.com in case you wanted to try any of them out for a reasonable price!). Alicia and I had a great time showing our little tips and tricks of the trade. Remember, it is a lot of information but “Practice! Practice! Practice!” and it’ll become second nature in no time!
Thank you and Happy Snapping from Danielle, Alicia and the entire Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.