Tuesday, July 26, 2016


TheStorytellersUsa.com on location at Merrill Park, Eagle Idaho

Ansel Adams previewed the locations of his landscapes to determine when the best light fell on his subjects. He could not move or turn his subjects to create the lighting he wanted, he had to wait for it. As a portrait artist you can create light artificially with speed lights as is being taught by many photographers on the teaching circuit, with a stake in promoting various lighting rigs and accessories. Or you can use the natural light alternative and do what Ansel Adams could not.  You can move your subjects to use the same gorgeous light that Ansel Adams sought. 

How to evaluate light on location and then where to place your subject within that environment to take advantage of the natural fall of light is the cornerstone of professional portraiture. Wouldn’t it be great to do this with less technology to haul to your outdoor sessions and less need of assistants as well?

The method I use is simple, far less costly and yields results with a natural three dimensional quality that can’t be matched with any additive lighting technique. Instead of adding unnatural light on my subject I use the Subtractive Lighting Technique pioneered by Leon Kennamer—one of my first lighting teachers, at the beginning of my career, some 30 years ago.

Portraits of the Meridian Lions Rodeo Teen Queen 2016 at Merrill Park, Eagle Idaho. Subtractive natural lighting with NO reflectors…

 f5.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 500 lens @ 168mm
Leon taught the use of large black flats (GOBOs) placed close to the subject, on one side and overhead, to block the subject’s exposure to light, coming from those directions, creating a shadow side thus making the light on the open side directional.

His technique required light stands and assistants, especially if there was ANY wind making the set-up potentially dangerous.  In addition his gobo technique would not work on groups.  But, when he talked about lighting theory he said something that has always stuck with he said, “The Light is at the EDGE of the Forrest”. So, in the spirit of his technique, I normally use locations that provide their own natural gobos to accomplish the same effect.  In other words, where the forrest stops there will be open sky (your main light) and the forrest will be your gobo (doing the subtractive job for you) creating the shadows.  

In the portrait above that’s exactly why I placed Jessie in that spot.  There are a line of trees close by on the camera left and open sky on the right.  But that’s not all there is to my method. One of my requirements, I’ve added to Leon’s teaching, is that my locations be backlit by the setting sun. So, I’m usually facing West using North or South sky light as my main light. 

Here’s one of her close-ups illustrating nice directional light using this technique…

f4.5 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; lens at 160mm
It’s all about subject placement. We moved to a different spot that had more trees (on two sides), but there was still a large patch of blue sky to camera left and I kept the setting sun to her back creating this nice Short Lighting Pattern on her face.  Short lighting is one of the best portrait lighting patterns in professional photography—that’s why it’s a required element, you must demonstrate, to get your PPA (Professional Photographers of America) certification. 

Any additive lighting, like a reflector or flash fill would flatten the light and ruin the directional (three dimensional) quality of this natural light.

Hope this help you see the light at the edge of the forrest!  ’Til next week…

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

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