Harnessing the Power of Natural Light Portraiture


I’m teaching a San Francisco photography class on natural light portraiture at the Teahouse Studios in Berkeley on April 21st. I always like to start my classes with a little slideshow of relevant work to get my student’s minds moving, and encourage them to visualize the lessons we’ll be learning. Natural light is free, and it is everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, properly utilizing natural light for portraiture requires a huge amount of awareness, preparedness, and creativity. All my work is done with natural light on a manual camera, so I tend to be quite a purist when it comes to portraiture. Here’s an example of a well balanced portrait with even light, a nice open exposure, and thoughtful composition.

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It is never enough to simply get the correct exposure. Or, get the right composition. Or, get the right light quality. Or, the exact right moment. You must accomplish all these things simultaneously. How!?!, you ask. Well, it’s simply a matter of having a strong grasp of camera basics. Once you become truly united with your tools, you will not have to think twice before creating an image. And this is especially important when creating a portrait. When your camera gets in the way of you and your subject, you’ve created a harmful distance. A portrait subject needs to feel comforted and trusting, and the photographer must be present fully. By fumbling with your camera settings or trying to find your aperture ring, you are putting an unnecessary technical wall amidst that crucial portrait moment.

Be present and be confident in those moments. Know exactly what kind of natural light you are looking for, and guide your subjects into that lighting situation. That is when your portraits will sing with even tones and an intimacy that can only be present when both photographer and subject are open to the moment.

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