It's All About the Light!

September 19, 2016

Lighting can make or break a portrait. In general, "even" light (e.g. that found on a cloudy day) is best and easiest for portraits. Exceptions can certainly be made for more dramatic images, but my goal is to offer quick and simple tips for families to create nice portraits both inside and outside.

Indoor Portraits

  • If you are inside, find a window (the larger the better) with indirect light (meaning the sun isn’t shining directly in, such as a north-facing window). If your nice big window happens to have direct harsh sunlight, you could soften it with a clear vinyl shower curtain liner or wait for a cloudy day when the light is naturally softer.
  • Place your subject(s) close enough to the window so that there is soft light on the face. If the side of the face away from the window is too dark, have someone hold up a white poster board to reflect the window light on to that side of the face. In the second image, I zoomed out to show the poster board. You may need to move it very close to your subject to reflect enough light.

With a reflector:

Window lightPortrait with window light and reflector

Same image zoomed out to show reflector:

Poster Board ReflectorPortrait with poster board reflector

Without a reflector:

without reflectorportrait without reflector

Outdoor Portraits

  • An overcast day offers soft, even light at any time of day. On a sunny day, the best time is when the sun is lower in the sky, especially if it is just below the tree line. It is best to avoid bright, midday sun because your subject will have shadows under the eyes and nose. If you must photograph at this time of day, try to find shade to get more even lighting.
  • A catch light in your subject’s eyes brings them to life! This can be achieved by having your subject look up enough that the sky reflects in his or her eyes (NEVER have them look into the sun!) In the portrait below, the sky behind me is reflecting in her eyes. You could also use a reflector (e.g. the white poster board) under the chin. Keep moving the reflector until you see the catch lights. This also helps to reduce any shadows in the face. 

Portrait with outdoor lighting, about 2 hours before sunsetOutdoor lighting, about 2 hours before sunset

I hope you have found this helpful! Please email me if there is a topic you would like me to write about in a future post!

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