August 10, 2011

photo session (available light) – Ekaterina

Ekaterina, (or Kate, if your tongue trips over her name), was the model at the top of my recent review of the Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye zoom lens. Since the fisheye makes everything bendy, and it must be the least flattering of lenses for portraits, I wanted to show a handful of images from the rest of the photo session with her. These should portray her graceful beauty much better.

The images here were all shot with available light only. The approach was exactly the same as described in the article, “using the available light” is not random. In that article I described how I photographed a bride using available light only, by positioning her such that the light just had to come in at a flattering angle. Predictably so. Similar here with these two photos of Ekaterina – I had her against the doorway which was deep enough under the canopy of the buildings. So the soft light was coming in mostly from 30-45 degrees from above – that natural softbox effect. Very flattering.

camera settings: 1/320 @ f3.2 @ 400 ISO
Nikon D3;  Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (B&H)

camera settings: 1/500 @ f3.2 @ 320 ISO
Nikon D3;  Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (B&H)

Working on the shadow side of a building with this bright yellow wall, I noticed there was this splash of glare from the sun being reflected off glass.

This created a natural spot-light effect which I then Ekaterina position her face towards. Here is the comparison image where I asked her to just look at the camera – no regard for the direction of light. It just creates a messy pattern of light. This just underlines the idea that “using the available light” isn’t random.

This idea ties in with two other related articles:
– direction of the light – using available light (model – Shawna)
available light vs fill-flash  (Jessica & Michael)
– finding interesting available light


Back to the final image:

Being so intent on checking how the light fell on her face, I didn’t note the shadow that her shoulder was casting. I should’ve caught that at the time and asked her to gently roll her shoulder back until the shadow isn’t as distinct. The learning curve is never-ending.


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{ 26 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Shane August 10, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Neil, when you post an awesome article like this, I instantly call my friend from Johannesburg and make him read it to me. Its almost like the real thing!

(I hope there is enough sarcasm coming through the net to not sound like a creepy stocker type) :D

Amazing natural light shots above! Very inspiring.


2 Bob Rossi August 10, 2011 at 10:56 pm

The devil is in the details, I am glad to see that even you don’t catch all the shadows as in the last picture that you noted the shadow on her shoulder. I thought it was only me.

BTW she is a beautiful model.


3 parv August 10, 2011 at 11:17 pm

I can’t help but notice a white halo following the very top of the dress along the chest. Or, am I seeing something else?


4 Neil vN August 10, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Parv … I went back to the RAW file, and even without the increased Contrast and Vibrance that was added to the processed JPG, there is a kind of highlight across that part of her chest. So it is there in the original file. The processing and resizing must have accentuated it just that bit more.

Neil vN


5 Jon Davila August 11, 2011 at 1:18 am

Neil – you’re always hanging around these gorgeous college girls. Does your wife ever give you grief like mine does? lol.


6 Jon Davila August 11, 2011 at 1:35 am

Also, the white halo seems typical to me of the line where a womans bathing suit would sit. Her upper chest would get very tan, and strapless dresses usually sit a lot lower than bathing suit tops and some tshirts. Hence, you’ll get a white halo kind of look sometimes because youve got the strapless dress drawing a small white line between the dress and the top of the chest where the sun has tanned more than the lower area.


7 Jon Davila August 11, 2011 at 1:37 am

This is especially justified because you can see the tanned “V” section in the center of her chest pointing down toward the center of the strapless dress, which indicates that the center was tanning at some point while the sides where not. Very typical of modern bra’s and swimsuit tops that ride high.


8 Neil vN August 11, 2011 at 6:13 am

I just want to correct the observations here about her tan-lines … she has none. Jessica agrees with me on this, btw. You guys are imagining things.

Neil vN


9 fotografii aniversari August 11, 2011 at 7:00 am

Beautiful images, beautiful model!
Two days ago, on my birtday, I turned one year old here. This blog I found then was my gift. So happy anniversary to us! :-)


10 William August 11, 2011 at 9:02 am

Hi Neil, thanks for this valuable article! It’s a coincidence as yesterday I did some disappointing natural light shots. Where that is concerned I am still at the bottom of the learning curve :-)


11 Chris Gampat August 11, 2011 at 10:45 am

Hi Neil,

Excellent photos and great posting. But where is this location? It’s gorgeous.

-Chris Gampat


12 Neil vN August 11, 2011 at 10:59 am

Meat-packing district.

Neil vN


13 Pete August 11, 2011 at 11:12 am

Great photos.

The first shots against the door look like they could have been taken somewhere in europe – they strike me as looking vary italian or even spanish. The shots against the yellow brick wall just look amazing.


14 Derek August 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

Nice shots Neil. This made my day, loving the one with yellow background, just damn sexy pose.


15 bart August 11, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Neil, the final photo is spectacular. It feels so dimensional. I wonder how the non processed photo looked like? (can you share it with us) I am just curious how much the post processing was done to get to that final phenomenal look. It is so sharp and vivid. ( love the red nails) I wonder, can this kind of quality be accomplished with d90 or it must be a full frame and one of those 1800$ lenses?


16 bart August 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm

What was the time of the shoot?


17 Neil vN August 11, 2011 at 2:01 pm

The time of that sequence was about 5pm on a summer’s day.

And yes, this image is achievable with any camera and a medium telephoto lens / zoom.

Here is the comparison images. On the left, only skin blemishes edited out … on the right the final edit, with the same processing as my usual post-processing for portraits. I also removed a few distracting background elements, either by cloning or cropping.

Neil vN


18 Hanssel August 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Hello Neil, when I was reading the comments I thought I was reading a “taning salon advice blog” people talking about how a tan of a bikini create such and such lines… when people start seeing this things I like to check their work,and when you see their work,their pictures are bad in so many ways, and I wonder, how come they see minimal things in another photographers work and they can’t see it on their on pictures? LOL.
Like always Neil great work and great tutorials, thank you for taking the time, good luck.


19 Alex-D August 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hello Neil,
As usual this is top of the notch and once more a full lesson. I notice that often your models do not look directly at the camera I imagining such things so is this willfull? When I take pictures if the modele does not look into the camera i feel that there is less impact yet your photos always have a lot of force.


20 Neil vN August 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Alex … during a photo session, there will always be a variety of images – some where my subjects looks at the camera; some where my subject looks slightly away.

In this case, I only selected 3 images, and they all happen to be where she is looking away. Why they perhaps have impact even with her looking away, is that this has is a very tight selection of the best images shot during a 2-hour long photo session.

Neil vN


21 fotografii aniversari August 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm

The link “post-processing for portraits” is not working, at least for me. It’s one of my favorite post. Thanks.


22 Neil vN August 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Thanks .. I’ve fixed the link now.

Neil vN


23 Jeff August 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Great work Neil!! As a fan of your work I was wondering if you sell prints? Thanks Jeff


24 Ricardo Carvalho August 11, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Excelente post.. O resultado ficou maravilha.
Você aproveitou bem uma fonte de luz “gratuíta com criatividade”.

Ricardo Carvalho – Fotografia de Casamento
Ilha Grande – Piauí- Brazil


25 ugur April 13, 2012 at 7:19 am

Dear Neil,
Thanks for your sharings, They are unbelievable:)) Your photos are very sharp and there is no grain. Do you use any noise reduction software and are you using tripod for this kind of works or just IS is enough?


26 Neil vN April 15, 2012 at 3:25 am

I wasn’t shooting at high ISO settings here, and my exposures were good. So there wouldn’t be any discernible noise.

On occasion though, I use Neat Image for when there is noise I want to get rid of.

I rarely shoot with a tripod.

Neil vN


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