Master Class
Natural Light Portraits...A Little Ingenuity Will Do

Photos © 2001, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

You say you don't have any beautiful locations around you for portraits? Who cares? You don't need any fancy environments for portraits. All you need is some light and a little ingenuity. That's what I've used here for these portraits. Of course, if you just want to take snapshots outside, that's your prerogative. But if you really want to do portraiture outside, then you can do it simply, easily, and effectively.

Window Light
This new portrait of me was made by using window light coming from a high window. I was positioned to get perfect portrait lighting with just the window light and a silver reflector to open up the shadows. It doesn't get much easier than that!


Shoot From Light To Dark
At another class in Long Island I was working the same theme. That is, you can create great portraits just about anywhere, as long as you know how to control the light and the background. Walking around outside with the class I found a covered back entrance to a store. Instead of placing Alex under the covered area, I wanted to show everyone in the class what I meant to "shoot from dark to light."


I stood under the covered area and posed fellow photographer, Alex, just outside the covered area. He was naturally backlit by the ambient light, but his face was almost totally in shadow. So, I had someone hold a Westcott Monte Illuminator (silver on one side/ black on the other), pointing it up to the sky to pick up the light. Then, he turned the reflector's edge only slightly, bringing light onto the front of Alex's face.

I asked the class how we were going to handle the drain pipe that was cutting right through the back of his head. They all exclaimed, "Photoshop!" "Not so!" I answered them back. Instead, I had someone hold up my Westcott translucent diffuser panel (#1707) behind him. That's all there was to it.


Find The Spot!
Moments later I pointed out our next studio. It was under a covered walkway only a few steps away. Who would have thought, huh? Well, there was light coming in from the open area, plus more light coming down an open staircase. All I had to do was pose the photographer, Chip, between the two of them. I had light coming from both directions, but not lighting up his eyes.


Easy enough. I once more positioned my silver reflector to pick up some light from my right side and get it into his eyes. He was wearing a dark coat. I didn't have my black and white background with me, so someone held up a dark scarf behind him. That blended his coat with the background, so that his face would jump out of the portrait.

And then, that's all she wrote. What we saw is what we got!


Soften The Light
Photographers, Suzanne and Robert Love, recently visited my house. They wanted a new portrait for their next year's holiday card. The day we planned a beach shoot the weather didn't cooperate. The next day time was limited, so we shot right in my own pool area behind my house. I posed them just on the outside edge of an umbrella covering the outside table.


It was early morning. The sun was up brightly already. I positioned my translucent panel behind them, but this time I used it not only for a background, but also to soften the harsh light. It was a perfect backlight for a high key portrait. They were dressed in light tones to blend with the background.


With no light coming from overhead I needed to light their faces. Not a problem. My silver reflector was put on a stand and again pointed up toward the sky. This picked up the light from the sky. Then, when I tilted the reflector slightly I was able to light the front of their faces with it.


Dark Surround
Why not try a dark background? That meant changing them to dark tops, of course, so that their heads would jump out in the portrait. Since the light wouldn't come through the dark background, I changed my tactics for creating the portrait. I posed them under cover right behind my living room. The light was coming in from my left. For the background I used my black/white Westcott background (#5685). The light source was so broad I didn't even have to use a reflector to open up the shadows. I simply had to turn them so that the ambient light wrapped their faces. I brought Robert slightly forward from Suzanne, so that her head wouldn't block the light from his face.


The resulting portrait was just as easy to create and as effective as the others had been.

For more photographic instruction visit my web site: We've got live video instruction going on there now. Have you experienced that yet?

You can now watch live video right from the comfort of your home on your computer. What can I say? It doesn't get much easier than that!