Today’s post is a fun little photography lesson! It’s about something that I keep in mind at every shoot since I’m all on-location and 100% natural light. Making the best of our location. I often photograph in clients’ homes, in parks, or by the ocean and although I’ve had the opportunity to shoot in some extremely cool locations, I don’t fret if I pull up to a tiny, tree-surrounded property with small windows. Why? Because, as Jessica taught us HERE, it’s “Lighting First, Location Second.” And if there isn’t abundant light inside, then (weather permitting) we step outside into their yard, their porch, and into the neighborhood beyond.
I decided to take two common locations near my own house to illustrate my point. With my d700 and 85mm f/1.8 lens in hand, I gathered my kids and we took a little walk after dinner!
Here are some ideas to open up lots of new location possibilities for you to use at a client session, or even on your own neighborhood excursions with your kids and the trusty point and shoot. Use your imagination, explore your surroundings, and find new opportunities right in your own town.
Blah Location #1
The first is a tree-lined sidewalk near our home, beside one of the main county roads. I’d driven by this sidewalk thousands of times before I ever stopped to think about shooting here. It’s certainly nothing special ~ this meager strip of sidewalk boasts a harsh chain link fence, a few tall pines, lots of pine straw (and pollen!) piling up on the sidewalk, unsightly utility poles, some shrubbery growing through the fence, one lovely little bougainvillea, and a moderately-traveled road just a few feet away. Not exactly prime real estate, but with the sun getting ready to dip below the trees (and a strong grip on my toddler’s hand!) I was sure I could make it work!
Look for soft, pleasing light and place your subject appropriately in relation to your light source.
Shoot directly into the sun, let it come from the side, the front, anywhere but directly overhead or underneath your subject. We don’t want raccoon-eyes (from overhead light) or ghoulish faces (think flashlight under the chin, not flattering on anyone). I much prefer backlighting and sidelighting over frontlight any day, as it gives more shape and dimension to your subject. But being all natural light and photographing busy, won’t-sit-still-for-a-minute toddlers on a regular basis, I’ll take frontlight or cloud cover ~ whatever I can get!
Jessica gives a fabulous tutorial on working with light here, and Marta gives us some amazing tips on finding the light here as well. Go check these posts out ~ they’re fantastic reads and full of information!
Look for texture and color.
Simply by utilizing a couple of positive attributes along this unassuming sidewalk (i.e. the green vines growing through the fence, the bougainvillea in full bloom), using shallow depth of field and taking advantage of that soft, cloud-covered evening sun (coming from the left of this photo), we were able to create this little gem here…
iso 200, f/2.2, 1/320th
Move around, try different angles and perspectives.
I let Parker stay right where he was, but this time I moved to his side so that he was a slightly backlit and his hair glowed just the tiniest bit. I also liked the perspective and the depth I was able to get from this angle.
iso 200, f/2.2, 1/500th
iso 200, f/2.2, 1/500th for both images
Use the light to your advantage.
Use backlighting whenever possible (see left photo of bougainvillea, below) to place emphasis on your subject, instead of the busy street beyond, in our case.
Shooting the other direction, utilize light falloff (see right photo, below) to direct the eye to the subject instead of to the messy fence behind the shrub. See how the sunlight doesn’t quite reach the fence behind the plant, and so it separates itself from the flowers?
(*Great trick to keep in mind for shooting in clients’ homes, by the way. Put your subjects in softly-lit doorways and let the room behind them just disappear into the shadows.)
iso 200, f/2.2, 1/250th | iso 200, f/1.8, 1/160th
Blah Location #2
I was determined to use another area near my house, so I began looking around for a second little (overlooked) spot. Well, I found what I was looking for in…. get ready for it…. a median! Yes, a simple little median that is positioned at the entrance to our subdivision. There are a few shade trees, some decorative grasses, the curb, and, well, that’s about it! The main street lies beyond, with houses on either side of the median/entrance. The sun sets to the left side of the photo below.
Use a longer lens if you have one available to you (or zoom with your point and shoot). Get in close to your subject to avoid showing a cluttered background. Focus on the details to really direct the eye inward. (Can’t see those kids who just passed by on their bike, can you?)
iso 200, f/2.8, 1/500th
Now open up.
Open up your aperture to a very wide f-stop (use Aperture Priority, AV, A, even venture over to Manual Mode, or M on your camera’s control dial) to really make shallow depth of field turn your distractions into creamy, blurry goodness. Lila’s curls look delicious to me this way, and really stand out against the green grass and her soft peachy skin.
iso 200, f/2.8, 1/400th
Rise above the distractions.
That’s right, if all else fails, just shoot upwards! I simply asked Parker to climb the tree (which he loved), and by shooting upward into the sun, I was able to utilize this beautiful backlight (my personal favorite!) and catch some gorgeous sunflare coming through the trees and over his shoulder. And no obtrusive rooftops.
iso 200, f/2.2, 1/400th | iso 200, f/2.8, 1/500th
I’m issuing you a challenge! Tonight, just before the sun drops out of view, take your camera and your kiddos outside, and put some of these techniques to use! One of them or all of them, whatever helps you to discover and take advantage of the fabulous, never-boring settings in and around your home. Make the most of what you have and let’s see what beauty you can create! Don’t lose a precious moment because you think the location isn’t “perfect” for shooting. Trust me, it rarely is.
Co-editor, Stacey Woods is an on-location, natural light lifestyle photographer for the Tampa Bay, FL area. Her favorite subjects are expecting mamas, the tiniest of babies, and children of all ages. Her online photo journal can be found at Stacey Woods Photography. Stacey’s own husband and children (a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter) are her greatest source of inspiration… and laughter!