Portrait on Location: Accentuating Natural Light

PhotoflexLightingSchool Lesson

Because of my interest in photography, there is a motto I tend to live by (and I even have a bumper sticker on my truck with this phrase on it): "I stop for photographs."


Guest author: Jaron Schneider

When I see a beautiful setting or that perfect light while driving somewhere and I have my camera with me, odds are that I'll stop. And if you happen to be in the car, you're going to be modeling for me. It is during these spur-of-the-moment photo-shoots that I tend to get some of my more memorable photographs. The fact of the matter is, however, no one likes to be remembered as the center of an unflattering photo.

In this lesson, I will demonstrate how to use a lightweight lighting setup that works well to accentuate natural light, and that you can keep with you at all times. Rather than fighting bad, continually changing, or harsh light as many complain about, try and use it to your advantage. Be ready so that when the perfect situation presents itself, you will be prepared.

What's in the bag?

•    Canon Rebel XTi
•    Canon L-Series 24-70mm Lens

Lighting Equipment
•    Photoflex FlashFire™ wireless kit
•    Photoflex  StarFire ShoeMount Digital Flash
•    Photoflex XS OctoDome nxt Kit

New to Light

Though I've been behind the lens for the better part of ten years, most of my work has been documentary/journalistic in style. My early years were spent on the sidelines of football and basketball games, struggling to make due with ambient light (they didn't let me bring flashes). Later, while traveling, I took my experiences of using natural light with me and never thought to expand my camera bag to include lighting equipment for one simple reason: I had never used it before.

More recently, I've decided to work up the nerve to bring controlled lighting into my repertoire. I've been told time and again that it's not as complicated as people say, so I'm willing to give it a shot.

So, with all that in mind, let's see what a novice can do with some basic techniques and some quality gear.

 Arriving at the Winery

I consider myself lucky because the beautiful landscape of the Santa Lucia Highlands, one of California's more well-known wine producing areas outside of Napa Valley, is but a short drive from where I live. My favorite place to visit while traveling wine country is Hahn Vineyards. Its tasting room and surrounding buildings are built on the side of a mountain that overlooks the Salinas Valley. It is quite the view, especially with a glass of 2004 Petit Syrah in hand!

On this particular occasion, my friend David (who I normally assist on other photo-shoots), my girlfriend Andi and I came to Hahn to take part in a yearly event where they allow patrons to make crafts from their old vines. While Andi was busy making a wreath, I seized the opportunity to shoot a portrait.

The Equipment

Because I rarely leave the house without some photo gear, I was able to grab my camera and, a big/new step for me, a shoe mount (speedlight) kit: The OctoDome® Studio Kit from out of the trunk (see image above).

Despite its name, the OctoDome® Studio Kit works just as well on location as it does in the studio. It’s lightweight, easy to set up, and inexpensive. It can be used with a shoe mount flash like the Photoflex® StarFire™, a studio strobe like the Photoflex® StarFlash®, and even a continuous light like the Photoflex® StarLite® for times when you need to diffuse constant light for video purposes. Because it can be attached to so many different light sources, it is quickly becoming one of my favorite photographic accessories.

Getting started, I opened up the LiteStand and attached both the ShoeMount MultiClamp and the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware to it (above).

Next, I pulled the OctoDome®: extra small out of the carry case and attached it to the basic OctoConnector. This process can be challenging for beginners with the larger SoftBoxes, but the size of the OctoDome®: extra small makes this a pretty seamless process for a newbie like myself (below).


The next step was to attach the OctoDome® to the LiteStand and mount the StarFire™: digital flash and the FlashFire™: wireless receiver to the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware (see below). Quick and simple!



With that, I was ready to start shooting.


Positioning and Shooting

In my experience, a really easy way to get the most flattering headshots or three-quarter lenth body shots of females who aren't used to modeling, one needs to try and shoot at either eye level or from above them. Such a position forces the model to raise her chin and therefore results in a more flattering image. Certainly there are numerous exceptions to this philosophy, especially if you have the ability to work with a talented model, but it is difficult to not get a good shot from such a position (above).

I instructed Andi to point her shoulders forward while she turned her head to face me. This is a popular angle from which to shoot because it adds dimension to the shot and makes for a particularly natural-looking pose.

For the sake of comparison, I took two preliminary shots: one with only ambient light from the sun as it peeked through the clouds, and the other using the built-in flash of my camera (below)



In the first shot above, we can see that with her placement under a tree, and the fact that the clouds were busily moving above us, I could not properly expose for her face as well as her body. The best I could achieve without overexposing her white shirt resulted with her face being rendered in shadow.

Alternately, in the second shot, there was really nothing I could do when I activated the built-in flash. The power output of the flash, which is difficult to adjust on my camera, blew out (overexposed) her complexion and other portions of her body. As you can see, this type of hard, flat lighting is truly unflattering.

With those results behind us, I turned on the StarFire™ and attached the FlashFire™ transmitter to the hot shoe of my camera.

In Manual mode, I set the power level of the StarFire™ to approximately halfway and repositioned myself on the bench.

As you can see, the result now is already so much better! The quality of light here is more flattering, as it illuminated her face and chest beautifully.

For those who are curious, my camera was set to the following:
•    Exposure Mode: Manual
•    Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second
•    Aperture: f/ 4.0
•    ISO: 200
•    Focal length: 40mm
•    File Format: Raw
•    White Balance: 5200K
Below, you can see a side-by-side comparison of our results up to this point.


Use the Natural Light

As much as I was satisfied with the results up to this point, I realized that the position of the OctoDome® wasn't really "accentuating" natural light as much as it was overpowering it. Sure, the results were good, but I felt that they could be better.

Because the sun was in line with the angle in which I currently had the OctoDome®, I moved it to camera right to allow the sun to do most of the work, while I used the OctoDome® as a fill light.

Due to the repositioning, I did not need the StarFire™ to be powered up as high as it was before. I was able to turn it down close to its lowest power setting (see below).

I also made some minor adjustments to the camera:
•    Shutter speed: 1/160 of a second
•    Focal length: 58mm

With all my settings squared away, I was ready to shoot my final images.


In these final two images, you can see that the light on Andi's face is evenly distributed and looks completely natural. Where before we had a few spots that were a little hot (too bright), with the second lighting setup, we eliminated all hot spots and ended up with a final with which I was more than satisfied. Success!

Lighting can be an intimidating proposition for some (including myself!), but it really doesn't have to be. By using equipment that you are comfortable with, and experimenting with your lighting setups, you can come away with some great results. Above all, remember to have fun in the process!


Written and photographed by Jaron Schneider.

Post Production by Debbi Ortiz

Modeled by Andi Bean.

Assisted by David Cross.


Share this: 
Related Articles: 

Discussion Box

Subscribe to our email updates

Subscribe to Comments for "Portrait on Location: Accentuating Natural Light"
Adorama.com is top rated for customer serviceHACKER SAFE certified sites prevent over 99.9% of hacker crime.Bizrate Circle of Excellence - See Adorama Reviews at Bizrate.com