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How I handle Natural light (Photography)

Ballerina Behind the scenes photoshoot

Feat. Valentina Pierini

If you look at the majority of the videos posted on my YouTube channel, you have probably noticed that I usually work with strobes. But guess what, I also work with the available light, indoors and outdoors. Surprisingly, with natural light and with strobes I kind of work the same. The following outdoor photoshoot took place in Rome last December with Italian dancer Valentina Pierini. One camera, my 24 - 70mm L f2.8 mark II the 16 - 35mm L f2.8, and no reflector or diffuser!

I wanted to start early but it was really too cold to my taste and I didn't want my poor dancer to get sick so we decided to meet when the sun was already up. Shooting in Winter is tricky because days are shorter which means that the light changes quickly. What you see on the back of your screen might change 15 mins later so you have to work fast.

When shooting in natural light I first look for 2 things:

1/ The shadows of my model on the ground...

I like long shadows because this means my model can look at me without having these nasty shadows in the eye sockets. Usually the shorter the shadows, the higher the sun.

2/ Shade!

This is my least favorite option but this gives even exposure on my subject, so this is always a great option to have... just in case.

So, If the sun is too high, don't panic! Just think of poses or movements where your artist or model will have her or his head slightly up.

For an even exposure, backlight your subject and let the sun create a nice rim light on your model.

This is exactly what I did in the first 2 pictures I made:

When possible I like to play with lens flare, and here I was hoping I could get this effect all across my picture. You can clearly see the sun adding a bright rim light on her side and although we didn't use a reflector, I still managed to have a decent exposure on her and keep most of the details.

In the 2nd picture, I kept the sun in the top left corner but it was already too high.

I'm a fan of hard light, so I am not afraid of having my model facing the sun. If you like the soft faded look on your pictures, this is not for you!

To make it simple, I place my model as if the sun was actually my strobe and I make sure my model is not blinded by the sun! Have your model /artist stand and pay attention to the shadows on her face and body. This will help you choose your model's placement, pose or move. I am looking for shadows, contrast, look at the light falling giving more depth to Valentina.

The light definitely influenced the composition and choice of the scene.

You know I love these Dynamic wide pictures ( 5 reasons to go wide! )! When capturing movement, knowing where the shadows fall is harder, you have to give it a few tries.

Looking at the shadows can also give you a few ideas. I thought it could be cool to play with them that morning so I asked Valentina to improvise. Taking my pictures from a higher perspective is not something I do often... Happy the idea popped into my mind.

For this last picture, the timing was almost perfect... We were not quite there but I still decided to take the shot. The problem with natural light is that you cannot move the sun. You can try to bounce the light with accessories or diffuse it but that's about it.

To make it short, you have to move or figure out a way to make it work. I had a composition in mind, a precise framing, the light was coming from the right side and I wanted that "Split effect" with the light on one side and complete shade on the other. So I decided to go for a movement going in the same direction as the light. The sun was a bit high, so having her naturally lift her head during the movement was perfect!

To sum it up, pay attention to details, look at the shadows and how they behave. Let the light guide you and play! If you want to know more about how I made these pictures watch the following video:


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