Master Class
While Strolling Throught The Park One Day Part I

Photos © 2002, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

I really never know what to expect when I'm taking one of my classes on a field trip. I do know that I will be using the same portrait techniques outdoors that I use when I'm in a studio environment. I also know that the outdoor settings offer many more challenges and opportunities for testing my ingenuity and resourcefulness.

So, there I was in the middle of the day with 15 "hungry" photographers, each waiting to see how I would tackle the afternoon's shoot-out in the park. I had already told the class that many photographers think that early morning and early evening light are the only times to photograph. I wanted to show those in my class how we could create good environmental portraiture throughout the day. "Good portrait lighting," I told them, "can be found in just about any and all locations, as long as you know what you're looking for."

I was concerned with two things, I had told them when we first got there. First, I wanted to find backgrounds with a lot of depth. Second, I wanted to have my subjects in an area where I could control the light. I promised that I wasn't going to "settle" for less than what I would consider acceptable standards of good portraiture.

Upon entering the park I saw bright, sunny areas, lots of trees and broken sunlit patches of light as the sun's rays came through the newly formed spring growth on the trees. My first thought was to jump right in. We found the first area, with lots of depth, in seconds--a tree-lined path with light all the way to the back. Ordinarily it would never have been a suitable location, because the light was so broken up with direct sun and shade mixed. I didn't worry about that, because I knew I could have a couple of people hold up my translucent panel overhead. I posed one of the photographers in a simple, basic pose, took one picture and had it. A high camera position kept the background simple--to just the area behind where he was seated.

Just behind me in another direction was a picnic table and bench. I had my male model sit, covered him overhead, too, with the translucent panel and took a look. The light on his hair was great, but he needed light in his eyes, direct light. So, someone else brought just a touch of light into his eyes with my silver reflector.

Now the group of photographers were getting into it. With the translucent panel available all we had to do was to find a spot where there was a great background. We knew by then that we could work in just about any location. At the same time, however, they realized that backlighting was the best situation we could hope for. Sidelighting was okay to work with, but the light going directly into the subject's eyes was to be avoided if at all possible.

I also showed everyone how we want to select a background that was fairly solid in its formation, rather than a background in which the sky came down between the trees to create a distraction.

Our next location for a portrait was only a few feet away. I always look into backlit situations. This one seemed to work fine. It was solid, had depth, and the sunlight was going all the way back to the farthest areas of the background. Nothing would go dark.

I posed the model seated on the grass. The sun coming in behind him lit the background beautifully and created a great separation light around his whole body, especially on his hair. All I needed was some light in his eyes. That was supplied easily by bouncing some light back into his face with a soft white panel. A silver reflector would have been too bright for his eyes.

Where all the direct sunlight was hitting on the foreground I got a slightly overexposed area. The background had less direct sunlight, making it a darker green. The overall affect from light to dark worked well for me.

Simple, basic posing was always the final key to success!

In all of this discussion about light, let's not forget the very basics of the basic pose: body at a 45ž angle to the camera; subject leaning forward, back shoulder brought around to be seen; head tipped to be perpendicular to the slope of the shoulders; body forming a nice pyramid base to the entire composition. Seems simple, and it is--at least once you've got it into your head that it's necessary to create the composition and to keep the basic pose pretty much intact.

Again, in the same area I found a group of women enjoying the afternoon with their babies. It turned out that they were all friends who had attended a birthing class together. I checked out the children and saw one of them in a very plain dress. Most of the other mothers had cute but very bright clothing on their children. This mother agreed to pose with her daughter.

I didn't have much time with her, but within seconds I got this picture of the two of them together. I love to photograph parents involved with their children, rather than looking into the camera. The picture has a lot of love and excitement in it. At that moment they were standing in a shaded area. I quickly took advantage of the light and the mother's great reaction to her baby. There were a lot of things going on behind them in the background, but the action was so fast and so good that I didn't care.

Within just a few yards of the group of women with their children was a scene that needed to be explored. A bridge over a small stream. A path lead from the bridge down toward where we were standing. One of the photographers had brought his family as models. I photographed the scene the way I had composed it in my mind's eye and showed it to them on the back of my Canon D60. I showed them where I needed them to be in the composition, telling them to walk toward me and away from me two or three times.

It worked. Both ways.

I'm always careful to want the people to stand out when they're placed in a scenic situation. I don't want them to become just a prop in the scene. I wasn't sure if they would stand out enough against the busy background, but their solid white tops and dark blue jeans worked beautifully. Then, too, the great backlighting from the sun on them also helped to separate them from the scene. As you can see, the father had to continually hold the baby. As soon as he put her down she'd run away! A few moments later we came across this wonderful scene of another path leading to a bridge. I got the idea of taking advantage of the problem we were having with the baby. I suggested that they walk down to the bridge, put her down and then run and chase her as she ran away.

It worked. I loved it!

Just look at the arms going, everyone running, the mother's hair flying. It was amazing.

A little farther on I spotted a covered shed where the gardeners worked and people rested in the shade. It was a portrait studio just waiting to happen!

I knew immediately that if they were covered overhead I could get light coming in from the side to create some great portraits. I was right. All I needed was a single reflector to pick up some light from outside and wrap it around onto the shadowed side of my subjects. You can see the reflector in her eyes, can't you?

I positioned the camera where I could get the father's profile over his daughter. Just enough of him to make it all come together. A lasting memory for the whole family!

Even the little girl held still for one picture--another moment to treasure. Just look at those eyes!

Finally, a picture of the parents together. It was so simple. A single light source and a reflector. Covered above. Light coming in from my left. I was in heaven.

Perfect portrait lighting is all around us. We just need to know where to go to find it. Certainly, this covered "nothing" area made a great studio, didn't it?