If you're an actor or a model, you understand the importance of headshots or portraits. Portrait photography isn't just a point and shoot operation, it's about capturing the essence of your subject. As a photographer, you want your subject's personality to shine through, and the kind of light you're shooting in can either enhance that or ruin it. These simple natural light portrait photography tips will teach you how to avoid the latter.
Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode
Professionals tend to use manual mode for shooting portraits. However, if you're relatively new to photography, shooting in aperture priority mode might be a better idea.
What this mode does is automatically adjust your settings for you as the light changes throughout the day. If you're not highly experienced in portrait photography and don't have the deft hand needed to manually adjust your settings every few minutes, the aperture priority mode will ensure that you come across fewer problems.
Time of Day Matters
When using natural light for your photographs, you have to know the time of day and the kind of light it produces. Certain types of day will prove harsh light while others will provide soft light, which is more conducive to portrait photography. Sunset is the ideal time of day when it comes to lighting. The natural light is softest at this time of day and, if you want a beautiful background, you're sure to find one at that hour.
The weather affects light as well. You'll want to avoid as much direct sunlight as possible, so the best kind of weather to shoot in is an overcast day. These simple natural light portrait photography tips may seem obvious, but never forget that the basics are of the utmost importance.
Know How to Place Your Subject
Do you want your subject sitting down or standing up? Do you want them inside or outside? Questions such as these are necessary to ask when you're trying to figure out the best lighting situation. It's not just the kind of light present that matters, it's how your object relates to it.
Becoming familiar with your subject—what their best features are, what their strongest character traits are—will greatly aid you when trying to place them correctly in a space.
Use the Appropriate Lens
There are hundreds of lens types out there, and each one affects how you focus your photos, what kind of light you can capture, and much more. We could spend a lot of time explaining the best lenses on the market, but for now we're going to stay true to our goal of giving you simple natural light portrait photography tips.
The basic principle here is to use a long lens. Because of the way long lenses are constructed, they provide a nice balance between subject and background.
Use a Light Diffuser
In the world of audio engineering, the most important rule to producing good audio is to capture it the right way in the first place. Photography is much the same way. Rather than relying on photo editing after the photos are taken, it would behoove you to establish the correct studio lights right off the bat.
This is why photographers use what is called a light diffuser. In the simplest terms, a light diffuser is a kind of screen to place in front of your camera to filter out harsh light. Feel free to play around with multiple types to get the lighting effect that best suits your subject.
Examples of Easy-to-Use Light Diffusers
If you're used to the idea of a photography session just being you, your subject, and your camera, then the idea of introducing new gear into the mix might intimidate you a bit. If you want a basic rundown of how light diffusers work, what kind to get, or even how to make one yourself, check out this video.
Think of How You Want to Use Shadows
Simple natural light portrait photography tips generally focus on light. Okay, duh. But where there is light there is also shadow. Both are of equal importance for any kind of photography, but especially portrait photography.
Some photographers automatically put themselves in the mindset of trying to eliminate as much shadow as possible. However, used creatively and correctly, shadows can make your photos all the more intriguing. A great photographer will find a way to use both light and shadow to his/her advantage.
Plan Your Location
Knowing your location is vital to taking great photographs. Subject, setting, and light are all interconnected. For example, being out in an open field where there is direct sunlight will require you to use a different lighting technique than if you were in a city with many buildings. What, if any, objects are blocking the light and how can you use them to your advantage?
Your lighting techniques will also be much different if you're indoors. In addition to studio lights, photographers often rely on natural window light for their portraits. Both light sources create different visuals, so deciding which one will work best for your subject is essential.
The Eyes Are Most Important
The old adage, "The eyes are the windows of the soul," is one to live by if you're a portrait photographer. While there are a lot of factors that contribute to what makes a striking photograph, the focal point of any portrait should be the eyes—that's where you'll get the most emotion.
If you're going manual, you're going to want to use a wide aperture setting. This will allow you to choose which features of a person's face you want to emphasize the most and which you would rather soften. This is an example of simple natural light portrait photography tips that deal directly with the structure of the human body.
Use a Reflector
Like a light diffuser, a reflector is an object that every photographer should have in their arsenal. The difference between the two is that a diffuser filters light while a reflector, well, reflects it. The importance of reflecting a light source back onto your subject instead of shining it on them directly is significant when it comes to avoiding harsh light.
If you're shooting at night or in a room with no windows, for example, you will need to create your own light source. A reflector will be very handy to get the soft light you want for your photographs.