photographing people – available light portrait
While unloading lighting gear from the van to shoot a last few images for a certain section for my next book, I turned around and noticed the way the light fell on Anelisa. Beautiful portrait light. The (cropped) pull-back shot will show why ..
We were parked under a bridge. The light now comes in from the side, but high up. This means the light isn’t top heavy, and you won’t get heavy shadows under the eyes. So with slight positioning of our model, Anelisa, we have soft light that comes in from a perfect angle – from the side and above at around a 30 to 45 degree angle.
This is the kind of thing we can actively look for when photographing someone. A few steps inside a doorway. Or a few steps under a carport. Or even a few steps between trees in a forest or park. Just enough to hide the light coming from above on a cloudy day, or from the sun.
The photo was taken with the classic Canon 5D, and the Canon 85mm f1.8 (B&H)
Camera settings: 1/400 @ f2 @ 200 ISO; no flash, just available light.
photographic composition – looking at the background
In framing the portrait above, I moved a little until I liked the way Anelisa was framed against the out of focus high-lights in the background. This relates directly to a previous post on how we frame our subject when shooting – we purposely look for at the background, and how we position our subject and ourselves in relation to the background. In that sense again, the photo at the top, while it is an impromptu portrait, it isn’t accidental in its composition. The composition was done with purpose.
And to give you an even better idea of how ugly our surroundings were, click on the pull-back shot to see the entire area. But in framing tight with a short telephoto lens; and using shallow depth of field; we’re able to eliminate everything that doesn’t add to the final image. That’s the essence of composition – the photographer includes what adds to the final image, and eliminates everything that doesn’t add something.
choice of lenses for available light portraits
A final comment about the lens – the Canon 85mm f1.8 (B&H) – it’s an exceptional lens for the image quality vs price. Many aspiring photographers who are using the slow f5.6 zooms, might think that photographs where the use of shallow depth of field is out of their reach, should strongly consider an 85mm f1.8 lens. It is quite affordable, and will give you access to this kind of simple portraits, where attention is placed entirely on the subject. For the Nikon shooters, the Nikon 85mm f1.8 (B&H) is the equivalent. Of course, the ‘big guns’ here are
the legendary Canon 85mm f1.2 (B&H), and the stellar Nikon 85mm f1.4D AF (B&H).
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