Understand artificial vs. natural light.
“We are very used to seeing things lit from the top down because the sun is above us. Therefore, a very natural lighting scenario involves a lot of bright light coming from above you,” explains Kenton. “An example of unnatural lighting would be ghost story–type lighting where somebody has a flashlight pointed up at their face from below, casting opposite shadows. All of a sudden, that person doesn’t look the same.” Beginners are advised to strike a balance between the two and take advantage of soft light or light that’s more spread out. The best way to do this is to position your subject next to a window on a cloudy day because the clouds will diffuse the harsh light of the sun. Then you’re working with beautiful, even lighting.
Try natural portrait lighting setups.
How you adapt your lighting will also depend on the location and time of day. Kenton recommends beginners head outdoors: “Photographing indoors is hard because you don’t have a lot of light. Outside, your exposure is easier to adjust because you don’t have to push your ISO to the max — that’s when the photo can get noisy.” If you’re bringing your subject outside to take their portrait, knowing the time that’s best for lighting will result in a higher-quality shot. The golden rule? Always aim for the golden hour, the last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise. “Your subject and background are more likely to have the same exposure value; therefore, it’s easier to find the right exposure for the entire image,” says Kenton.
But what if you’re forced to shoot at midday? When the sun’s at its brightest, it creates challenges — mainly, harsh lines cast on your subject’s face. To avoid sharp contrast — known as hard light — look to the nearest building for shadows. “Buildings provide open shade in harsh sunlight. The shadow the building casts from the side can create more even light for you to harness,” says Hannah. “And if you can find light-colored walls in open shade, the sunlight will bounce off the light color and fill in any dark areas.” No matter what time of day it is, always ask yourself where your main light sources are coming from before the shoot. Then you’ll be prepared to adjust accordingly.