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Available Light Portrait

Iceland photo workshop 2016


I love shooting portraits with available light rather than flash. Even on a bright sunny day when the sun is shining and the lighting isn’t appropriate for a portrait you can find pools of light, which are. Provided you’re using your 1st Building Block of Photography of course!

Light will make or break an image so it’s crucial you look around you and find light that works for the subject you’re shooting.  It took me a very long time to understand this when I was learning and even longer to learn how to see light and match it to my subject matter.

When shooting a portrait always go for great light over expression or location because Light is king. 

“But what do I do when it’s strong bright sunshine?” I hear you ask. “I watched your videos about good light but I’ve only got the next couple of hours and can’t wait for the light (or weather) to change.”

This is where your Brilliant Brain (which is my 1st  of the 7 Building Blocks of Photography has to get to work. If you look around you can pretty much always find a pool of light which will work for a portrait. Even on a bright sunny day when the sun’s high in the sky.

But there are other things to watch out for as well. Strong sunlight causes deep shadows and bright highlights and our eyes can see detail in both. But a camera cannot and it’s vital to always remember this. Cameras ‘see’ light differently to us because our eyes have a huge dynamic range.

We can see detail in both bright and dark areas because our eyes feed hundreds of images per second to the occipital lobe of our brains, which then makes a kind of HDR image out of them so we can see all the details.

If you don’t believe me, get someone to stand in front of a bright window and take a photo of them. You’ll either be able to see them and the outside is burnt out or it’ll be the other way around. Yet with your eyes you can see both.

So when you do find a nice pool of light that’s perfect for a portrait you’ll have to think carefully about your exposure. This often means ignoring your camera’s light meter because cameras get it wrong in situations like this.

You have to adjust exposure so you can see details of the person in the composition and letting highlights blow out. I personally love this look though many purists will tell you it’s bad and wrong.

It’s not bad or wrong; it just means they don’t like it!

If you're struggling with the idea of ignoring your camera's light meter or don't know how to do the things I mentioned, my Ultimate Beginners Course is where you need to go to learn how.  I know I promote my 7 Blocks a lot, but if you don't understand what I've just said clearly, you're not ready for it yet so I don't want you to buy it yet.

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