Every portrait photographer starts out working in available light but eventually, if they are stick with photography and are serious about their craft, they move up and learn to light.
In my case, I had to learn to light because the newspaper I was working for switched from BW to color.
Back then the best reproduction for color pictures came from photographers shooting transparency or slide film.
Because transparency film had little latitude, most situations needed to be lit by photographers.
For me, learning to light was a progression.
At first, I was happy as a clam to ‘nail’ the exposure.
You have to remember with film, you don’t get to see what you have until you develop the film an hour later if you are lucky enough to have access to a darkroom.
Plus with flash being so brief, all you have is a flashmeter to tell you what to set for your aperture.
Your skill in light placement came through trial and error.
Next thing I knew, I was unhappy with how ‘flashed’ or unnatural my pictures looked when I lit my subjects.
Before long, I was striving to be subtle with my use of lights.
Ironically my learning to light had one unintended consequence.
Because I spent a inordinate amount of time trying to recreate Â natural-looking light with my flashes, I became very aware when there was great looking available light.
It doesn’t mean that’s my preferred way of working.
It’s the starting point since I can see and recognize great-looking available light well.
In contrast, when I light a scene completely, I have to see it in my mind’s eye.
It’s almost as if I starting from scratch.
My subject in that situation is in a dimly lit room and there is little ambient light.
Time of Day
It bears repeating that time of the day often makes a big difference for your quality of light.
It’s not just the ‘directional’ property that you constantly hear photography books and teachers harping on.
It’s also about the color temperature. (See the chart).
Perhaps it’s something in our human conditioning that suggests that a person looks healthy when they appear a little tan or warmer in skin tone.
In any case, I chose aÂ picture of Josephine who is elegantly dressed in an vibrant Indian outfit to illustrate portraiture doesn’t require a lot of equipment.
For this portrait, I asked her mum to meet me at a local park in the evening.
I had an assistant holding a huge 6′ collapsible reflector which was white on one side and gold on the other.
Main source of light is the setting sun striking the lake’s water and bouncing upwards to Josephine’s face.
You should be able to tell which one had the reflector and which didn’t.
Gong Xi Fatt Choy or Happy New Year to my readers who are celebrating the Chinese New Year ushering the Year of the Dragon.