I’ve been lucky enough to team up with the MAKUP Academy in Birmingham recently, photographing some portfolio shots for their graduating students and the experience gave me a real opportunity to experiment with available light and some techniques that I hadn’t fully explored before.
Portrait photography with available light isn’t particularly hard. It does place the burden of getting a standout shot squaThe location was perfect. Regenerating Digbeth, an area of Birmingham familiar to those that have watched the Peaky Blinders. Victorian factories in a state of distress. Very photogenic. I liked the idea of the squared off bricks in the background setting off the curve of the head. You may not guess, but this is in fact a make up effect known as a ‘bald cap’. The model here, Juliana Ratcliff has thick waist length black hair!
For the this shot I used an 85mm prime lens on the Canon 5D body. Wide aperture to throw the bricks out of focus and a focal point on the eyes. The weather was pretty grey, a nice soft, diffused light that reflected well off the dirty white brickwork. I asked the model to stare past me, into the distance and fired off a couple of frames.
I added the high key effect in Lightroom, the original is exposed more or less evenly across the spectrum. When people talk about ‘getting it right in camera’ I usually agree, but to get this shot right in camera would have meant over exposing slightly and I didn’t want to risk losing any detail that I couldn’t get back from the original file.
My take on ‘getting it right’ with available light covers depth of field and composition, everything else can be done later in software.
A couple of other tips – you can massage the available light by using reflectors. I bought mine form Calumet in New York, a sprung circular frame with a reversible sleeve giving me three colours, gold for warmth, silver for cool, white for plain reflected light. If you want to highlight a particular area, remember that a large reflector will cast a wide circle of light. A small reflector enables you to get a much more clearly defined area lit.
I hope this is useful – the takeaway here is that you can get great portraits with available light, in some ways it’s easier because there are fewer variables to play with – but it casts the burden firmly on the imagination of the photographer and their knowledge of their equipment and the rules of light.