Natural Light Essentials

Hi guys. In this video tutorial I cover the basics to a natural light shoot using minimal equipment. I keep this simple and affordable by using the following elements-

1) Large window - FREE

2) Foam Core boards (white and black) $15-30

3) Apple Box $30-40

Check out some images from this shoot below.


Iceland April 2017

I just got back from a 7-day trip in Iceland visiting friends and exploring the country. What a magnificent beautiful place! I attempted to capture some landscape photographs in the process (and learned quite a bit!). I debated for quite some time prior to my trip as to which camera I would bring (Canon vs. Sony). I ended up compromising and brought my Sony a6500 and Canon G7x Mark II. All images below were captured on the a6500 (the Canon was used for vlogging).  


Favorite Lenses for Portraits

Commercial shoot for Tribetats and Blenders Eyewear shot on Canon 24-105 f4l lens.

I have people ask me which lenses I use for a particular shot. I don't necessarily have a specific focal length that I always reach to-- really depends on the situation, but most importantly what I like to refer to as the 'working distance' to a client. How comfortable you are as a photographer with people, and knowing how to pose them in a way that appears natural and inspires confidence is really the key element.  

For some people that might be a 24-70 zoom lens, an 85mm prime, or a 70-200 telephoto zoom. All of these focal lengths can take amazing photographs if you capture the right moment. Having quality equipment, maintaining it, and knowing how to use it properly to create the aesthetic you are going for is mostly experimentation in the beginning, but once you familiarize yourself with your gear the next step is to create a connection with your subject.

Personally I like to work at a very casual 'talking distance' with my clients. That means I am at a distance where we can have a natural conversation without either of us speaking overly loud, or missing what the other person said. For me this can be in the 35mm to 50mm range. 

When I first started out taking portraits I read articles online advising the 85mm and/or the 135mm focal lengths as perfect for portraits.  Naturally curious, I tried both lengths and quickly learned that although they can both create amazing images due to compression (Google lens compression if you don't know what that is), I was so far away from my subject it felt very impersonal. 

I'm not saying you should never use those lenses-- that would imply removing good tools from your toolbox. What I like to do is start with a focal length that creates a healthy starting 'working distance' with your client. From there learn to intuitively gauge the distances you can both work at comfortably, find the crop distances that your subject likes, and experiment. I might start with a 50mm and find that I could move to a 35mm or backup to a 100mm depending on the crop and how much rapport I have built with my subject. 

There's no baseline, right or wrong method here. Everybody is different and how comfortable you make them feel is really going to make the biggest impression on their images. 

That being said, if I could only have one lens it would be a 24-70 f2.8 zoom :)  

Retouching: How to approach portrait editing?

Photographers may use very similar equipment across the board, but what really sets photographers apart is the style they approach their retouching. For me personally, I use Adobe Lightroom to sort and rate my images-- this allows me to speed up my workflow in the often time-consuming selection process. Once images are rated from 1 star (worst) to 5 stars (best), I view my top picks and create a collection gallery to determine which ones will move on towards editing.  

SOOC (Left) versus VSCO color grading (Right)

The next step is color grading. Straight out of the camera (SOOC) images typically look a bit dull and flat. This is because in order for the camera to capture as much data as possible it must separate the darks from the lights. Camera sensor technology is not at the level of sophistication as the human eye, which can see a wide gamut of colors and contrast. Because of this, post-processing becomes a tool by which the photographer can bring his or her vision to life. In my case, I often utilize color presets (I use VSCO primarily to color-grade) to begin my editing process. This helps me to set the mood for the gallery.  

The next step is to retouch the subject using a multitude of methods in Adobe Photoshop. I start by using the Healing Brush tool to clean up skin artifacts, slight wrinkles, acne, etc. The Patch Tool is useful for larger areas of skin that need to be cleaned up. The next step is to even out the skin tones. For this I use a method called Frequency Separation (you can Google/Youtube this for more info). You can also use Photoshop Actions that enable you to 'brush on' skin smoothing. I use the ones created by Fashion Actions (www.fashionactions.com). It's a quick and easy way to clear up blotchy skin tones, and uneven layers.

Once I feel the skin looks clean, I move on to dodge and burning.  I use a Wacom Intuos Pro to paint on highlights and shadows to create more depth in the image.  I add and remove to areas where I want to enhance the natural light as it is (especially around the eyes).  This helps to create the impression of dimension to an otherwise flat image.  

VSCO color graded image (Left) versus Full Retouched image (Right) 

After that is detail work such as sharpening and brightening eyes, cleaning up makeup, and removing stray hairs from the equation. At this point I would do additional minor tweaking or special filters such as the ones offered by Alien Skin Exposure. It's an excellent plug-in software that you can install within Lightroom/Photoshop. I highly recommend it!  

And that's about it-- here's an example of a finished product.  Enjoy!