Tuesday’s missed post was brought to you by a nasty viral cold. After several days on the couch, I’m finally back on my feet. But if this post doesn’t make sense, you can blame it on the cold meds.
I almost feel like this shouldn’t be a “Saturday Light” post, since there aren’t any strobes involved. This edition was shot wholly with ambient light. I can tell you two things about this right off the bat: this is the first time I’ve shot portraits with only ambient lighting and, second, it’s a lot easier than you might think.
Here’s our scene: it’s an overcast, windy day, mid-afternoon, outdoor location. We’re on a tight timeline, with only about 20 minutes to get the shots we want. It was either haul a flash along (and enjoy all the fun that goes along with using an umbrella on a windy day) or work with the ambient.
I went with the ambient. It’s a new look for me, but one that I’ve been studying. I’ve long been impressed by other photographer’s abilities in working with the light that’s already there. The images have a very different look from those created with flash, a softer, more subtle look. Equally important is my ability to shoot with much wider apertures, since max sync speed is no longer a limiting factor in the light-balancing equation.
So I’m going with the theme of “make the most of what you have.” And what I have are some great open shadows to work in. Open shade is like shooting inside a giant diffuser. The light is very soft and maintains only a little directionality. Ideally, open shade should be continuous, without breaks and splotches of hard light that can ruin an exposure. In this case, I’m working in the shadow of a church. It’s the perfect mix of interesting background texture and great light.
As you can see, however, I’m not taking it entirely as it comes – I’ve got a VAL with me, and have traded in the lightstand for a reflector. This was also my first time working with a reflector – or rather, having my VAL work with one. Fortunately, it’s easy. Unlike flash, a reflector is a constant light source, so what you see is what you get. Which makes it easy to steer the reflected beam to wherever I need it.
I was given a collapsible 5-in-1 reflector for Christmas, through the Google+ Secret Santa exchange, and this was my first time using it. Suffice to say, it worked really well. And since this was a shoot of firsts, it was also my first time shooting with my newly-repaired Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. I’ve been wanting one of these as a portrait lens for some time and was finally able to pick up a good used one before the holidays – unfortunately, USPS trashed the focus while it was en-route (more on that another time).
I’ll wrap up this utterly random Saturday Light post with a few final thoughts:
- I enjoyed shooting ambient-only and will definitely be working more with it. It’s nice to be free of the constraints that Speedlites impose. And I really like the ambient-only look.
- A reflector is a great piece of gear to have in your kit, and especially a 5-in-1. It can be used for both ambient and flash reflection/diffusion, or as a flag to block light.
- Even in open shade, a reflector will help focus/direct the light onto your subject, although the effect is much weaker than in direct light.