Brief– Taking the photography of Mann, Atget or Schmidt or a photographer of your own choosing as your starting point, shoot a number of photographs exploring the quality of natural light. The exercise should be done in manual mode and the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. In your learning log, and using the descriptions above as your starting point, try to describe the quality of the light in your photographs in own words.
Approach– I started with recording images of light exploring its characteristics that can be found here. I am inclining towards experimenting with portraiture as a genre for this section of the coursework. To take this exercise further for my own understanding and explore the genre of portraiture further led me to make some portraits in natural light.
While researching various artists, I came across this book called The Luminous Portrait by Elizabeth Messina which includes beautiful and ethereal portraits, all taken in natural light, at most with the light being bounced-off by the help of a reflector. It just sounded too good to be true that such beautiful images could be taken simply by studying natural light and making the most of it. Being greatly impressed with the simple techniques that the photographer has incorporated, I have tried to emulate the same in my attempt to do portraits in natural light.
I have selected ten images out of the one-day shoot that I did that best bring forward the quality of the natural light. I have not done my usual editing process through contact sheets as none of the images are discards or bad in my opinion. I have just simply selected ten best out of them that I will share the exif info of. I have attempted these images in natural light, with no addition of a reflector even, in different places of the house and during different times of the day.
The larger images can be seen below in the gallery. The one technique that I have followed in this shoot consistently throughout is to keep the exposure over by one-two thirds of a stop, following the suggestion of the author.
- Camera– Nikon D6
- Lens- Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* ZF Manual Focus Lens
- ISO 100
- Manual Mode
- Temperature- 4600
- Exposure – Over-exposed by one-two-thirds of a stop
Techniques & tips
These are the learnings that I took a note of while studying the book and kept in mind while shooting the above images, as learnt from the author/photographer in question:
- Make sure the source of light is either behind or on the side of the subject – this will eliminate any squinting or being unable to look at you.
- It is is important to have ambient light on the subject’s face – use a reflector or scrim to bounce off the natural light on the subject’s face.
- Use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field – a low f-stop helps create a more luminous and softer image.
- It is important to shoot a lot while continuing to vary your exposure (bracketing)
- The best source of natural light, sun can be challenging and there are a couple of things to remember – On a particularly bright sunny day, backlight your subject as its unflattering and also causes squinting of the eyes. The best option is for the subject to face you with the sun behind them, so their faces are in the shadow. Then simply expose for the shadow. This will result in a truly stunning lit from within portrait.
- On an overcast day, overexpose the shots to give them a great depth of field and to make the light almost celestial looking.
- Expose for the darkest point, the shadows, to create a luminous and ethereal image or to create a ‘light’ feeling image.
- The only truly unique angle that you can bring to your photography is yourself – for reg, your personal style, your preference of light, etc.
- Inspired images – Careful preparation + knowledge of light and equipment plus creative or artistic perspective.
The remainder of the images that I experimented and shot for this exercise can be seen in the contact sheets below.
I am pleased with the fact that I was able to achieve similar results, having followed the simple techniques and suggestions by the photographer Elizabeth Messina. I think it has been a great learning for me to read her book along with the images and try to understand the effects that she has been able to achieve by extremely simple techniques and incorporate the same into my explorations of the genre. By the end of this book, I definitely had decided to continue with portraiture for the remainder of this section to get a more thorough understanding of light, both in natural, artificial and controlled lighting.
Messina, E. and Tobin, J. (2012) The Luminous Portrait. 1st ed. New York: Amphoto Books. p.