Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Just a little background for you, so you know who I am…I’ve been doing portraits of families and children in the studio ( http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com ) and outdoors for over 25 years.  As a PPA (Professional Photographers of America) Certified, Master, Craftsman I’m very comfortable and proficient—with many state, national and international awards—in both the studio, using professional flash systems and outside using TAILORED natural light. That being said, by far, my hands down preference is outdoor Natural Lighting for my children and family portraits. It’s not just that I prefer this type of lighting—my clients Love the Look of my style of outdoor lighting and they spend more money when they order. In fact, 90% of our wall portrait sales are from these sessions with an average of at least one 20”x24” portrait. 

So, what do I mean by “Tailored Natural Light”? I don’t just plop my subjects down in an open field (I’ve seen this from Many photographers!) and use that flat omni-directional light with a  blown-out background. No; to get the results I want I must be in control of Where and When we do the session.  I give our clients the choice of one of the eight locations that I know, on a month-by-month basis, when and where each spot is usable.

My personal taste—the style I’m known for—is for my backgrounds to glow naturally with the setting sun. The example below is at one of our favorite fall locations…

Because children are so naturally alive, I want my backgrounds to be alive and glowing as well—if there’s no glow it’s a dead background and I won’t use it. That’s why I don’t use Black Backgrounds in the studio for children or families either, it’s too funeral like for my taste. This philosophy is so important to me that for any portrait session—studio or outdoors I start with the background.

I tell my students that, “I build the portrait from the background…forward”!

The above image shows All of my lighting criteria for the ideal location:
  1. Light in the background from the setting sun 1 to 2 hours before sunset.
  2. Open shade for my subjects—direct sun shall not touch the mask of their faces.
  3. Clear open sky from ONE side of the location.
  4. Trees or bushes on the Opposite side; My Gobo.
What the heck is a Gobo?  It’s my light blocking device to create a shadow side on my subjects faces.  This is how you create three dimensionality in a portrait. 

This technique is called: Subtractive Natural Lighting

When I photograph an individual in an open location where the light hits the face equally from both sides, I often use a hand-held Gobo (a 40” Black Flag) to create a shadow side like this…

This is why there is no need for flash outside (while the sun is still above the horizon); there’s too much light and it’s often coming from multiple directions. It’s much easier and you need to spend far less money on equipment to just subtract the unneeded light!

My philosophy of lighting is that you should not introduce a point light source (a speed light) into an environment already lit by a very large soft source (the sky).  They just don’t mix well. In my world the flashes live in the studio where they don’t have to compete with any other sources and I control every nuance of their output.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions for make a comment…’Til next week…

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Certified, Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

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