I think most photographers would agree that natural light is the best light for portraits outside. However, as a long time professional portrait artist it’s my job to find or create directional natural light to create the third dimension in our two-dimensional media. If there are no shadows on the subject then you don’t have directional light; you just have flat light. The worst version of this type of light is the effect of direct on-camera flash.
So, because adding artificial light, in a scene where there is plenty of ambient light, will look harsh and unnatural I propose the use of Subtractive Lighting or what is sometimes called Negative Fill to create natural looking directional light.
How to Create Negative Fill
There are two ways to subtract light from your subject when out doors:
- You place your subject(s) close to natural (trees, bushes, rocks, etc.) or unnatural (buildings, walls) objects that will create a shadow side on the face. Of course it’s imperative that there be light (e.g. Lots of sky light) on the opposite side.
- You place a black, opaque Gobo (or flag) near the subject to create the shadows.
Here’s an example using the location’s natural light blockers…
|f4.5 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm|
The keys to creating this look outside is proper placement of the subject and time of day. I placed the boy where there is a line of trees and rocks about ten feet away on camera left. On camera right there is a large patch of clear blue sky creating the key light. The time of day (about 1.5 hours before sunset) is creating that nice, bokeh filled, back light.
If you’re forced to use an open location with no natural light blockers using a black gobo on an individual works great. In the image below my wife, Kathi, is using a 42” Black Gobo to block side and top light at the same time creating a nice shadow side on his face.
|Hand Held Negative Fill|
My Mentor Leon Kennamer
I learned the Subtractive Lighting Technique from the pioneer of its use in still photography Leon Kennamer. He was one of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) Masters that I studied with in week long courses at the Brooks Institute of Photography some 30 years ago. He taught me the use of the hand-held gobos, but he also taught us about finding the light. His words are always with me when I’m scouting locations. He said that, “THE LIGHT IS AT THE EDGE OF THE FORREST.” That means if you drag your subject(s) INTO the forrest you’ll lose all light direction (called blocked-up light) because you’ve created negative fill everywhere. You must step back out of the forrest until you have that patch of blue sky on one side and the forrest on the other.
Again using natural light blockers on location…
|f4.5 @ 1/320 sec., SIO 800; Lens @ 155mm|
So, I’ve adapted Leon Kennamer’s technique using natural light blocking features because when doing group portraits it is not possible to use hand held Gobos on groups of people. In the image above, taken about an hour before sunset, I’ve placed him where a line of trees, on camera left, are blocking all the sky light from that side. The sun is setting behind him and there’s a large patch of blue sky on the right. The key here is to watch where the subject’s nose if pointing; too far towards the tree line and you can lose the light in the eye on the shadow side. This image shows how directional natural light can become with careful subject placement. It’s no different in principle than classic studio lighting.
Have questions or comments don’t hesitate to leave them.
You can also watch a short 8 minute video about Subtractive Lighting on my YouTube Channel, Light At The Edge Photography, along with other helpful videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UevJkSVJy4o
’Till next week…
Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com