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Tips & Tricks

Using Natural Highlights & Shadows to Create A Mood | How I Shot It

By Brittany Smith on January 2nd 2018

The New Year marks the beginning of a brand new chapter that has yet to be written and it is an exciting time. It’s a time of personal reassessment, focusing, and goal setting. As photographers we are always looking at ways to improve our craft and one of the best ways of enhancing our skills is by learning the nuances of light.

[REWIND: How to control your background with a 70-200mm lens]

Gear UsedCanon 5D Mark IIICanon 50mm 1.2L USM Lens.

Tech Specs: ISO 1600, F/4, 1/200th of a second.

Natural light is one of the most readily available resources and it is one of the easiest ways to create a mood within a shoot. Available window light creates an even light source that delicately wraps itself around subjects and there are bound to be windows full of harsh light in contrast to harsh shadows as the sun makes its way across the sky throughout the day.

Both of these scenarios make great study and practice materials for learning to identify the best way to light a subject quickly and beautifully in any location.

The Gear
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 50mm 1.2L USM Lens

Soft Light

Soft light is like a giant soft box and is available on any given day of the week, and entirely useful as long as there is a few feet of empty wall space or room for a Background Stand and a roll of seamless paper. This type of light is a favorite among modern glamour, portrait and boudoir photographers as it is great for all skin tones and textures, thus making post-processing a breeze. It is also great for fashion photography and model test shoots.

For these first images, the futon was moved to create a blank canvas and Rachelle Kathleen was positioned facing the open window to create a subtle gradation from highlight to slight shadow across the body. The light was a bit drab and required pushing the ISO above 1000 which isn’t a problem with today’s modern cameras, and for this kind of shoot. The soft light with a bit of grain created a mood that was feminine and romantic that we adopted throughout the rest of the shoot.

Model Rachelle Kathleen.

Gear UsedCanon 5D Mark IIICanon 50mm 1.2L USM Lens.

Tech Specs: ISO 1250, F/4, 1/160th of a second.

Gear UsedCanon 5D Mark IIICanon 50mm 1.2L USM Lens.

Tech Specs: ISO 1250, F/4, 1/160th of a second.

Hard Light

Hard natural light is unpredictable and it is the adaption of it that makes for stunning and unexpected imagery. The key is observing how the light envelops the model and learning how to utilize the highlights and shadows to an advantage and dictate the overall mood. The drama exists within the  interplay of light and shadows.

BTS of the available light and shooting space.

The sun peaked through as the shoot progressed and created specular pockets of harsh light accompanied with some amazing shadows that were very low to the ground.

It was easy to have Rachelle find a spot within the warmth and pose accordingly. The challenge was finding a spot with an angle that was low enough to the ground and didn’t compromise her stature. It is imperative to shoot with lower angles when capturing models who fall in the petite side of fashion because it is all about the length.

Model Rachelle Kathleen.

Gear Used: Canon 5D Mark IIICanon 50mm 1.2L USM Lens.

Tech Specs: ISO 250, F/6.3, 1/320th of a second.

The pockets of sunshine quickly transitioned in direction and height with the swift setting winter sun. Within 30 minutes the window light had transitioned from the floor to standing height so we continued to move with it. The shadows of the window framed Rachelle wonderfully and made it easy to cast in shadow the areas that would otherwise need to be censored. Being a lover of contrast, no additional equipment was used to act as fill.

Captured against the wall with the mirror.

Gear UsedCanon 5D Mark IIICanon 50mm 1.2L USM Lens.

Tech Specs: ISO 400, F/8, 1/200th of a second.

Learning to see light and experimenting with exposure is an excellent exercise and is the primary tool that photographers use to develop and refine a personal style throughout a career. Manipulating light is a priceless skill to possess and it allows us to see possibilities in any given situation.

Brittany is a fashion and beauty photographer who works between NYC, Montana and LA. She photographs the way she has always wanted to feel and believes in the power of raw simplicity. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local coffeeshop, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, or baking something fabulous in the kitchen.
Instagram: @brittanysmithphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Carter Wade

    Great article, its a nice reminder of just how easy things can be.

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