available light photography

exposure metering: under-exposure / over-exposure vs exposing correctly

When I posted this photograph of Peiwen & Eric’s wedding in Melbourne, Australia, on Facebook, someone asked the question: how much did I over-expose this photo by?

We have to be very clear with our terminology regarding over-exposure and under-exposure. This photograph is not over-exposed. It is exposed correctly! Did my camera’s light-meter jump all the way to the right-hand side? Yes, it surely did. Does it matter? No, it does not. Why not? Because I exposed correctly. Not under, not over, but correctly.

This photograph (which is ambient light only), is exposed correctly … because my subject, the bride, is exposed correctly. This is a key concept – we have to expose correctly for our subjects. Even if you decide to turn your subject into a silhouette, the decision was still very specific about how you wanted to expose for your subject.

If you are a landscape photographer, then most likely your entire scene is your subject. If you are a portrait photographer, then invariably, your subject is what you need to expose for correctly.

However, if you want to balance your subject which is shaded, in relation to a much brighter background, then you’re going to have to use additional lighting to expose correctly for your subject. But working with just the available light, you will invariably aim to expose correctly for your subject.

Learn more inside…

{ 14 comments }

window-light baby portrait photos – Liam

Any parent will know that the kiddo has a distinct personality from the moment it is born. For the photographer then, the ideal is to capture some of this personality.

My own take on photographing babies, is that I want to forego all the props and accoutrements associated with baby photography you often see – the hats and such. While the toys are often necessary to keep the child’s attention, I still like to photograph just the baby.

Liam’s parents were close by, getting his attention. I prefer that if anyone calls to him, that they do it right over my shoulder, nearly breathing down my neck. Snapping fingers and pointing where the child should look, never works. If anyone is going to call the baby, and I want the baby to look more or less towards the camera, then the other person needs to be right next to me, hovering right behind me.

Learn more inside…

{ 6 comments }

available light portraits – composition and light

Over time I noticed that my style in photographing portraits have gravitated to a specific look where everything is quite simplified – the lighting, the background and the framing of the shot. Whether I use the available light, or video light, or off-camera flash, or even on-camera bounce flash, there’s a certain uncomplicated look. I’d like to think of it as elegant unfussy simplicity.

Analyzing this, it is easy to see there’s a specific method here. It’s a method which helps especially when under pressure. Here, even allowing extra time for the crazy peak-time traffic here in New Jersey, I was still running late for the photo session with Christy. When I arrived, falling back into a familiar rhythm of shooting portraits, allowed me to get images that work, very quickly.

The essential idea is that the light has to be good, and the background has to be complimentary. Then it is a matter of posing our subject, and composing the frame. Invariably then, the starting point is finding that intersect between good light and a good background. And if  you don’t have great available light, then you need to create it with additional lighting.

Learn more inside…

{ 15 comments }

a favorite image – before & after (and the how to)

There’s something about this photograph that I really like … aside from Anelisa being one of my favorite models. It is slightly surreal with Anelisa’s apparent levitation. The dress and hat is reminiscent of a 1950′s Fashion, and Anelisa’s mid-air pose is also reminiscent of Philippe Halsman’s iconic jumping images. All that, combined with the sun flaring across her face and the washed-out background, all adds to this wonderfully nostalgic mood.

Learn more inside…

{ 10 comments }

embracing serendipity during a photo shoot

I love that word – serendipity. A bit of chance favoring you. When a tiny bit of serendipity comes your way during a photo shoot, you have to be open enough to see it and then run with the idea.

This photo was taken during the mini photography workshop in Denver. Our model, Elizabeth, had dropped a box on her foot the previous day. When Elizabeth wriggled her feet into these high-heels for the photos, she bent over to soothe the arch of her foot. And then … those legs happened! There was something in this pose that really worked. So we went along with this a while. (I didn’t quite want to call this blog post “a happy accident”, since there was actually a minor accident involved for Elizabeth!)

This photo was taken with the Fuji X100s (B&H) using only the available light. By exposing for my subject, the background blew out. But I had to help that effect further with a bit of Photoshop work. The image was further enhanced with RadLab.

With her pose like this, the light reflecting off the ground lit up her face. Another happy accident. We tried different poses with that hand … and it never quite fell into a position where *this* was the best pose. In the end, I really like this image, and how it came together.

Learn more inside…

{ 11 comments }

available light photo session in the studio – Elle

During the same photo session with Elle where the aim was for Hollywood Glamor lighting style with video lights, I also wanted to change it up completely with an entirely different look and lighting – an available light photo series in the studio. With so much light flooding into the studio, it was just a matter of positioning Elle into the light. To get away from a blank wall, the background was a backdrop.

And yes, the studio needs more furniture. We’ll revisit this territory with future shoots. But even with such a minimalist setting, the photographs came out surprisingly well.

Learn more inside…

{ 20 comments }

finessing photographic composition – and using off-camera flash vs. available light

With this background, I liked the way the dots were repeated in Olena‘s dress in reverse – white dots on black, instead of black dots / holds on silver. I liked the repetition, and decided to work with the composition of this photograph a bit.  For the final sequence of images – of which the image at the top is one – I asked Olena to really exaggerate the curve of her body to create an S-shaped, which in turn contrasted boldly with the rigid pattern of the background.

This article’s original title was going to be:  Off-camera flash vs the snobbery of “available light is always better”. When you look at the available light photo of Olena, you’ll see that the available light was pretty sweet – soft and flattering. But it lacked punch. It needed just that little bit of drama to it. The available light shot just looked a touch too bland. Off-camera lighting to the rescue!

I had the flash in a soft box to create flattering, yet dynamic light on her. I wanted her shadow to be more defined and become part of the composition, but that would’ve meant a harder light source. Holding the Lastolite 24″x24″ Ezybox (B&H) fairly close to her was the compromise. This way her shadow added a subtle element to the composition.

Learn more inside…

{ 11 comments }

night-club photos – Modern Gypsies – mermaid

When the Modern Gypsies asked me to photograph their one performance piece in a night-club in Manhattan, I wasn’t sure what equipment to bring along. I tend to over-prepare and bring too much. You know, just in case. So I have a tendency to overload myself with gear at times. It’s a discipline thing then to strip it down to just the essentials … but still be flexible enough to accomodate a challenging situation.

The previous time I photographed them, I knew there would be a large prep room, so I could bring in extra gear such as light-stands and softboxes. It worked out quite well for the example I showed on the Tangents blog - Modern Gypsies – masked dancers, as well as other photos out on the street, where the off-camera flash helped.

This time, I suspected I might need to travel much lighter. Night clubs aren’t the placed to walk around loaded with gear. So while I did load off-camera lighting and such into my car, I left most of my gear in the car. In my shoulder bag – the Think Tank Retrospective 20 (B&H) – I kept only the one  camera, three lenses, and two speedlights.

The performer is Irene, also known as Bird Girl in other performances. (You can follow her as @violinartiste on Instagram)

The photo at the top was taken with the Nikon D4  (B&H) and Nikon 35mm f/1.4G  (B&H) using only the lights there in the night-club. camera settings:  1/60 @ f/1.8 @ 3200 ISO  The available light looked great when it worked to my advantage, but I soon knew that I’d need to add a bit of fill-light from bounce flash

Learn more inside…

{ 10 comments }

available light photography: direction of light / posing into the light

A topic that I’ve given more and more attention to here on Tangents, is available light photography - but specifically the concept that it isn’t just a random way of taking photos, but that consideration has to be given to the direction of light. When you work with someone you want to take a portrait of, it is crucial that you pose someone in flattering light. This often means posing someone into the light, with the one shoulder toward the direction of light. This idea works for even the simplest of cameras.

Learn more inside…

{ 6 comments }

taking photos in harsh sunlight

Taking photographs of people in harsh sunlight will always be one of the more daunting lighting situations we can find ourselves in. Without additional lighting, or the use of scrims, we have a few basic ways of dealing with the harsh sun:
- pose our subject into the light,
- pose our subject with their back to the sun, or
- just suck it up and accept that our photos will look bad.

Well, that last option isn’t really the way to go if we have any pride in our work as photographers. Which leaves us with the two other options …

Learn more inside…

{ 13 comments }