Shooting In Harsh Light – Two Examples

XE2-7645I recently had the pleasure of taking some senior portraits of a good friend’s daughter who is about to graduate high school and wanted a photo session with me. I asked them what they wanted as far as a “look and feel” goes and she really liked the fashion look more than the traditional young portraits you see available. Right on, this should be fun. But the problem we ran into once we all arrived at a local park is that the light was much too bright and the shadows were horrendous. Rather than punting and not shooting at all, I decided to press on and make the most of it with the tools I had, namely, speedlights and a 5 in 1 reflector.

For the first shots we took, we setup in an area that was part of a large baseball field. I wanted this to be an available light shot that was soft and really let the bokah bring her in to the image as the subject, but the bright light made the shadows in her eyes and face so harsh she would have looked like a raccoon. Or if I exposed for the shadows the highlights would have been blown out and lost. My Neewer 5 in 1 reflector to the rescue! The way I figured it, I now had a two light setup, the sun which I put at the back of her to rim light her hair and shoulders, and the white reflector that I had her father hold for me. The light being reflected back removed the shadows in her face and evened out the light so that I could capture more of the picture without losing the highlights or the shadows. An added bonus to this setup is that the reflector adds really nice catchlights in the eyes. A side note here, although I could have used an on camera flash to help with the shadows, having the light come from the same axis as the camera typically results in flat lifeless photos that no one likes. Better than nothing, but we can do much better by reflecting light back on our subject and/or using a flash off to the side a bit.

For the second shot I needed to do things a bit differently since It was going to have more of the background visible in the shot which left no room from my friend to hold the reflector anywhere near my subject. So I pulled the cover off of the reflector which reveals a scrim, which is just a fancy word for a piece of translucent material that allows some light to pass through it while becoming a large, diffuse light source. This worked well to even things out, but left no “pop” in the photo, so I put an umbrella to the camera’s left with 2 Nikon SB-28 speedlights firing into a 43′ shoot through Westcott on half power. I used two on half power so I’d get a quicker recycle time and still get the amount of light I needed on the subject. That took care of the left side, but I needed a little seperation on the right side so I put another SB-28 on a light stand firing almost back at the camera, about 5 feet behind the subject to put just a small rim light on here so she’d “pop” off the background a little. It’s subtle, but you could certainly tell when I beat the lights and they didn’t fire.


I was really happy that we were able to pull this shoot off using the tools we had with us and despite the harsh lighting conditions, we were able to get some pictures that the subject was happy with. I have to say, the real standout of the day was my little reflector. Without it I would have had a much harder time trying to balance out the light.

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