Ambient Light

I recently had a fun shoot with Kristie and Andy.  This was really a mini-shoot, we didn't change locations or have multiple wardrobe changes, but despite it's laid-back approach I still arrived prepared for any circumstances (meaning, I had lots of lights with me).  

We chose to shoot outside as it was a lovely, warm spring day and the late afternoon sun wouldn't be too overpowering.  There were plenty of natural backgrounds from which to choose and the only thing left to decide was how I was going to light them.  From the various online forums, books, website and actual people I've talked to, I feel confident in grouping a lot of photographers into two main groups when it comes to lighting.  Those that consider themselves "natural light" photographers (or the ever so more pretentious "found light" photographers) and those who feel that if one light is good, then twenty lights are even better.  As you dig deeper, you often find that those "natural light" guys are secretly scared to death of flashes and the other camp is just showing off!  As with most things in photographer (and the older I get, the more I realize life in general) the truth is somewhere in between.  As a photographer, you learn how to use your tools and adapt to the situation at hand.

My usual approach to lighting is to start simple and use ambient light when appropriate, necessary, or in rare instances, when the natural ambient light is doing amazing things and the only logical choice is to hold on and shoot as fast as possible before it disappears.  This was not one of those cases.  The biggest limiting factor of the day was not the light, but the wind!  Even a light breeze can catch hold of your lights send them to the ground.  Not to mention the fact that you usually have some sort of modifier (sail) attached which can not only knock over your light, but also send it on a quick trip down the street.  Hasn't happened to me yet, but I've heard the horror stories!

So ambient light it is, but not without a little help.  The biggest problem with direct sunlight is it's relatively small size.  The smaller the light source (from the perspective of the subject) the harder the shadows.  Yes, the sun is quite large, but being 93 million miles away turns it into a relative dot of a light source.  So how do we fix that?  Simple, use your superpowers to generate clouds and cover that thing up.  Or, just use a $15 diffuser as I did hear.  There are some pretty cool ones with handles and such that allow you to hold it with one hand while shooting with the other.  You can also attach it to a light stand and forget about it...except for the darn wind, I highly recommend having a girlfriend who is awesome enough to hold it for you without complaining which is my chosen method for this first shot.


Harsh, almost direct, afternoon sun, turned into a kinder, gentler wash of light.  I didn't do a "with" and "without" shot to show the difference, but check out the shadows underneath the top rail of the fence in the background, that's what would be under their eyes without the diffuser.

Don't have a diffuser you say?  No problem, your next best bet is to find a place in the shade.  Preferably somewhere that is still getting some light, but isn't in direct aim of the sun.  This second shot is a perfect example.  


This is on their front porch, still well lit, but not directly.  

So there you have it.  Sure, I could have brought out the lights, sand-bagged them, or just gone inside, but there are always options.  Fortunately, this time it was simple and cheap.