Tuesday, June 14, 2016


There is no need to add light in outdoor portraits when the sun is above the horizon. There is always plenty of light (usually too much) one or two hours before sunset if you place your subjects properly. The key is controlling the excess light on your subject(s) by subtracting light from one side with either natural light blocking features (like trees, bushes, or buildings) or, when doing individuals, using a Gobo—Like my 42” Black Flag - to create a shadow side on my subject’s face.

With the Subtractive Lighting Technique you can create beautiful true natural light portraits—never needing so much as a reflector and most certainly NEVER polluting the scene with flash!

So, let’s go on location…
 f6.3 @ 1/100 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 125mm
This family portrait was done two hours before sunset on the edge, of the common area, of a new housing development. I like this spot because it has several layers of trees all along this lawn, on camera right, blocking much of the ambient light to that side. Next I have a BIG patch of clear sky creating my key light on camera left. And finally, the icing on my location cake, is that nice glow, from the backlight, of the setting sun as my background. 

NOTE: When I am in control of picking the location, these three elements must be present for me to use a location—especially for group portraits. But, if the backlight glow is absent, even if the other two elements are there, I won’t use the location.  Weddings or other events would be the only time I would be forced to break this rule.

This is exactly the kind of location I teach my students to look for.  I tell them to look for light (sky light; without direct sun) at the Edge of Something to have Directional Lighting on their subjects.

Masters Tip Source: One of my early teachers, Leon Kennamer, THE Master of the Subtractive Lighting Technique, taught me that, “The Light is at the Edge of the Forrest!”

If you take anything from this blog, think about that statement…Now Go out and Look, and Use this simple bit of wisdom! 

I see “Professional” Photographers, ignorant of this knowledge, go marching INTO the forrest, all the time when I’m out on my sessions, making this fatal error in lighting (they say, “well, isn’t that where the shade is?”). When you go INTO the forrest all you get is FLAT DULL LIGHT — You lose proper direction of light, because the dominant light becomes TOP Light — not a good light for portraits.

 f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 155mm
Now it’s 45 minutes until sunset at the same location and the glow is getting nice and warm in the background. We moved their son to get that glow all around his head and I opened up my lens to f4.5 and zoomed to a longer focal length to really blur-out that background.

I moved him a little closer to the tree line (now on Camera Left) for a more dramatic lighting pattern—making sure I had light in Both eyes.  No reflector needed (it would only flatten the lighting) and, of course, no speed lights needed or wanted to pollute this gorgeous light!

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

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

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