Window light and a LiteDisc reflector.
In the previous blog, “Creating a Home Studio Part 1”, I described the basic elements that comprise a “studio” and went on to list some lighting scenarios. In this installment, and those to come, we’ll be covering some more detailed approaches to making your home studio work for you.
As I pointed out in Part 1, WINDOW LIGHT portrait techniques supported working photographers from 1880-1925. Although that career may not be possible today, you can benefit from their approach and create wonderful images. It's not rocket science.
The image at right, Katie with her brotherMatthew, is an example of a simple window light portrait.
Notice how the SOFT SIDE LIGHT models the faces in a pleasant way. A GENERAL RULEIS TO GET THE LIGHT TO STRIKE THE SUBJECTS FROM THE SIDE. Another general rule is to avoid having the window in the shot.Read on for detailed set up and shooting information.
We begin by taking a shot outside inovercast light. We call this OPEN SHADE.Acceptable, but boring. The light is almost shadowless, so the subjects look flat like cardbord cutouts. Although this lighting can hide skin blemishes, it is not my first choice for a portrait. (This is my daughter Liz. She has nice skin, so she doesn't require this flat lighting.)
I have moved to the left, for the second image. Note how the subjects stay in the same area in this 5 minute session. As I move along the semi-circle, represented by the white line, the subjects are directed to turn so they are always facing the camera. NOTICE HOW THE MOOD OF THE SHOT AND THE SHAPE OF THEIR FACES CHANGE AS THE LIGHT STRIKES THEM FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE. A soft shadow appears on their faces (camera left) and they are able to relax their eyes.
In the next imageI havestepped inside the house and Liz and Matthew have continued to face the camera. Thesubjects are no longer fighting the bright light and Matthewis ablelook up.This is the traditionalREMBRANDT LIGHTING pattern used by hundreds of thousands of photographers for window light portraitsover the last 150 years. Notice how the highlights and shadows create a much nicer mood in the image. Note the use of a 42 inch LiteDisc reflector in the diagram.
In the next shot the camera continues to move to the left and the window now appears in the background. THIS IS NOT GOOD. AVOID HAVING THE WINDOW APPEAR IN A NATURAL LIGHT WINDOW PORTRAIT. The result is a dark rendering of the subject - almost a silhouette. A reflector would help this set up, but I've removed it to accentuate the bad effect of backlighting from a window. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON ERRORS IN NATURAL LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY.
In the fifth example I've done my best to save the backlit image using the Photoshop alterations shown in the dialog box. This backlit effect can be effective for some shots, but you should run some tests before you depend upon it for consistant results. Poor quality lenses can lose too much contrast to get a good result with this set up. Zoom lenses on point-and-shoot cameras are particularly bad in this situation. I'm using a Nikon 50mm f/1.4on a Nikon D-300 and the contrast of the lens makes it possible to salvage the image.
In the sixth and final image I added a StarLite fixture with a 150 watt compact flourescent lamp in a Medium OctoDome to light the subject. Note that the window is still in the background, but the OctoDome provides enough light to create a well balanced shot. The StarLite and an OctoDome is a wonderful rig for portraits and videos, no matter where you're set up. The StarLite accepts high output CFL or tungsten lamps.
As you can see from these examples, the set up for a window light portrait is very simple. I urge you to duplicate the lighting and posing in this blog with numerous subjects so you'll be able to accomplish a session in just a few minutes. Send some of your examples to Photoflex!
Next time we'll discuss some POSING OPTIONS with natural window light and other sources..