Tuesday, January 30, 2018


As I said in Part 1, the only way I use Natural Light in outdoor portraits is to never add light. But, that’s not where you should stop because depending on where you place your subject(s) you could just end up with non-directional flat light, on your subjects. Now that’s not horrendous—it’s still far better than blasting your subjects with flash! As professional portrait artists we should strive to do better than just settling for flat light. So, I advocate the use of the Subtractive Method of controlling Natural Light to create direction in our lighting, which then makes our subjects look three dimensional; you know like real artists have been doing for 500 years!

Classical painters had it easy; they could just paint in the shadows to create three dimensionality in their scenes. We photographers have to exert control of the light using something opaque (a Gobo) to block light on one side of our outdoor “set”. Therefore, I place my groups close to large, usually natural, things in my outdoor environment—like trees, bushes and/or rocks that will create facial shadows on the side opposite to a large patch of open blue sky.

With this as the result…

 f5.0 @ 1/300 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 142 mm
In Part 1 we photographed the whole family group posses, so now we’re doing what we call the “breakdowns” or sub-groups.

I placed Mom and son on a log—with the setting sun behind them—close to a large dark rock (it’s about 3 feet away on camera left), which has a row of large trees behind blocking all of the sky light on the left. A large patch of sky, on camera right, is creating a nice large, soft, key light on their faces while the natural Gobos on the left are Subtracting light creating nice soft shadows.

Continuing the breakdowns…

 f5.6 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 640; Lens @ 115mm
We do as many breakdown combinations as we can—more variety in choices means more sales!  These combinations are not only what the clients requested at the time, but some extras we just did to add to their choices. 

We have dad and the girls at the same log as the previous portrait. We also did portraits of the three children at this location…Then we did individuals of the children.  

f4.5 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
When I photograph individuals I change my set-up so I can hand hold my camera and use my lens at 200mm for a nice soft background with good Bokeh. I’ll use whatever ISO will get me to a hand-holdable shutter speed (e.g. 1/250th sec.)

Again to be effective, you must place your subject fairly close to the GOBO so that you can see its effect (the shadow) on your subject’s face.  Some photographers may have difficulty seeing this rather subtle effect with the naked eye, so I suggest to my students that they meter for the highlights on the subject’s face and take a test photo. It will be very obvious, when viewing the camera’s rear screen, if you have the shadows you’re looking for.

How close, you ask, should the nearest member of your group be to the GOBO? Usually about ten feet works for me. If you have a really big tall tree line them 20 feet may work beautifully. For individuals they can be mere inches away from the GOBO—like when you lean them against a tree—for a really pronounced shadow that is more dramatic.

You may have noticed that on the individual portrait of the girl the aperture I used was f4.5 instead of f2.8 or even wider apertures being advocated by many amateurs and inexperienced professionals on the internet. I NEVER use my 70-200 mm f2.8 zoom lens wide open for portraits. 

In next week’s blog I’ll talk about why you shouldn’t either.  ’Til next week…

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

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