Don't Forget About Natural Light

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In my last post,  I explored the ways you could quickly use off camera flash to make better pictures in harsh light.

When you are learning to master off camera flash, the tendency is to use it every time you make a portrait. It can be effective for making your photos more interesting, but I honestly think you should avoid it for every picture. Just view off camera flash photography as one technique in your toolbox that you can use when you need it.

You should also really be working to train your eyes to be looking at the available light and how to best harness it, rather then automatically starting to set up lights and reflectors.  

I'll give you an example - I once had to do one of those quick five minute photo opportunities with an national business owner who was in town doing a media blitz from his hotel room.  I was busily setting up my flashes while the reporter was interviewing him, and then it was time for the photo. I took a few frames - and the light from the flashes was ok - but I had a lot of tweaking to try and make it look half decent. I was dead set on using all my new off camera flash equipment to make the best photo I could. I then realized the window light was actually awesome - so I shut off my flashes and made the rest of my frames (and the best shots) with the available light.

When you have a limited amount of time - natural light is often your best weapon. It's hard to recreate with flashes and has just as much punch as a strobed portrait when used effectively. 

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Here is another portrait from last year's fringe festival launch - I noticed the light heading into the press conference in the foyer was better then the dark room of the press conference. Sure I could have setup my softbox and external flashes, but I thought the natural light would best. I just grabbed one of the performers and asked if I could make a portrait of her outside. Luckily there was a nice backdrop there in the form of a brick wall. You have to be careful to take a meter reading from the subjects face, set your camera to manual, and fire away.  

I am always on the hunt for good light - open shade, window light, opening a door to let in some natural light (in the case of the cowboy portrait above) - or breaking out the flashes, whatever it takes. Don't feel like you need expensive lighting to make a good portrait though, because amazing light is all around, you just have to keep an eye out for it.

Have any suggestions for using great light? Leave em in the comments below.