Natural Light Senior Portraits – Some Tips

Hi Everyone!  Thanks for checking my blog.  It is January and it is pretty cold out there now.  The last couple of months were great for shooting natural light portraits out of doors.  Now, it is really too cold… but would love to do some more snow portraits if anyone is game!

Kim Bova Photography, Wedding & Portrait Photographer

Here is an example of ‘flat lighting’ where the light is coming straight on into the face, so the face looks flatter, meaning, no heavy shadows but the face and eyes are well lit. You can see here a shadow under the nose but no real shaping of the facial features. This is very much like ‘beauty lighting’ that one could create with studio strobes. The light was bouncing in off the grey-ish weathered barn siding right behind me (camera position), and the sky above the barn was open and bringing light in on my subject. Soft diffused lighting from late afternoon light in the shade.

Natural light senior portraits are wonderful anytime of the year and I love it so much that I thought I would post some tips.  Each season has it’s own unique qualities.  There are some issues to watch for when the trees are bare, but, don’t let that stop you!

But first let me introduce my HS Senior who I am featuring in this post.  Meet Julia!  We had a spectacular natural light senior portrait session earlier in the Fall of 2014. She is an artist, volleyball player and wonderful model, too!  I will also make a feature post for Julia soon, but wanted to use a few of her images to make my points here.

Some Tips for Natural Light Senior Portraits.

1) Study light.  That means look for it.  Notice how it falls on things and make shadows, or no shadows, or where you stand in relation to the light and how your subject looks from all angles.

2) Take walks and look for the light direction.  Find places in your area where you could possibly make some natural light portraits.  Morning and late afternoons are best as the light is falling on your subject at a lower angle.  This is helpful as that the eyes will have catch-lights which add life to a portrait.  Without catch-lights, a face may appear dull.  Also, light coming in from a lower angle or from the side, rather than right overhead, will give you an opportunity to shape the facial and body features which will give depth and dimension to your subject.

The light in the image above is beautiful light.  But next I wanted to create more dimension and slim the face a little by shaping it with shadows.  Same position, same light.  I just turned her face and asked her to lower her chin a little. I watched for the shadows, while keeping some catchlights in her eyes.

Wedding & Portrait Photographer, Kim Bova, Natural Light Senior Portraits

Here I turned the head slightly away from the light to make some shadows to create dimension. Same location, different angle.

Yes, it is subtle, but it is there!  We were completely in the shade.

Use a Reflector.

I love reflectors.  They can help you ‘bend’ the natural or existing light to your advantage.   Below, I used a reflector, held by Julia’s mom, to fill in and to make the light stronger from one direction.  This made it possible to create the dimension I wanted.  Can you see it? It helped me create the catchlights as well!  Using a reflector is very simple, you just need to practice with it,  to see the light and the effects each angle will give you and you will get the feel of it.  You can practice using a friend or a round object if you don’t have a person to help you.  I helps to work with a friend so you can see the difference with and without the reflector and the effects it has on a human face.  Move the reflector closer in shady light, and much farther away from your subject in sunny light. (Please, never hold a reflector very close to your subject in the bright sunshine, you don’t want to blind them!) Click here for basic instructions on how to use a reflector.

Wedding & Portrait Photographer, Kim Bova, and Natural Light SeniorPortraits

A reflector was used off to the left to help shape the direction of light.

You can see here the nice shadow on the right side of her face and the way it shapes her features.  We liked the stone wall here, but the light was not strong on her face naturally.  You can see the sun was filtered through the trees in the area behind us.  But the light was dull where we wanted the photo to be taken near the pretty stone wall with a nicer background.  So the reflector helped me create a portrait where I would not have been able to without it.

Find Great Locations

Great locations are everywhere.  You will get used to finding them if you play, explore and practice ‘seeing’ where the good light is.

1) Go for walks with your camera at the right time of day, morning or late day and study the places that have nice backgrounds and see if these will work for you.  It is really best to go with a friend or two so you can create test shots.

2)Look for places with open sky facing your subject as they pose in front of a potentially great background.  The sky is your light!

3) Look for over hangs – near buildings, or even trees.  These can block the overhead light and force the natural light to come in from the side, a lower angle, so the light will go in to the face and eyes as we said above.

I hope this was interesting and helpful if you are looking to learn how to take better natural light senior portraits, or any portraits at all!

Please leave me a comment so I know you were here or contact me if you want to know more about photographing people in natural light outdoors.

Thanks.  Kim

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