It is all about choices and there are so many aspects to planning for a great portrait.  One of the things I find that people can be confused about is lighting.  Most people really don’t think about this aspect of portrait photography, but it really is one of the most important elements.  I have found that most people know what they like or do not like when they see something, but when asked they do not know how to verbalize it.  There are two main types of light for portrait photography–naturally occurring light (sun, window, etc.) or artificial light (strobe).  I like using both and will utilize them according to the situation.  Understanding both gives me the flexibility to use any location and get great results.  When photographing weddings, I use both methods.  Likewise for portrait photography sessions, some situations call for strobe, some for natural light.  So let’s run through some of your options when you are planning to have your portraits photographed.

Black and White Wedding Photo Saratoga Springs NY

Black and White is so classic. This was taken on an overcast day with no supplemental artificial light.

Natural Light Photography:  Natural light photography relies solely on the light that is existing without adding strobe.  Many times to get a good, flattering lighting pattern on the face for a portrait, the photographer needs to supplement with a reflector to bounce light back into the face.  Sometimes the reflector is an actual piece of photography equipment.  Sometimes it is simply a white wall or white pavement on the ground.  I prefer doing this type of photography in open shade or during the “golden hour” of the day.

Upstate NY Senior Portrait

This portrait of Grace was made in open shade around noon. Understanding light and location is critical.

Artificial Light:  We are all familiar with artificial light–or strobe.  It can be a flash on the camera or off the camera triggered by remotes.  In my photography studio, I tend to use a large softbox when using my strobes.  Outdoors I sometimes use a light modifier, sometimes not.  It really depends on the situation.  Either way, I really do not love an overly “flashy” look.  I tend to like a soft transition from highlights to shadow in most situations, but sometimes a dramatic lighting ratio can be really cool.  When I go on location for a portrait session, I usually bring lights in case the location a client has chosen has little or no light.  

In Home Lifestyle Family Portrait

I was in a client’s home and used off camera strobe with a light modifier because there was no light in the location the client wanted to use.

Saratoga Portrait Photography

The lighting ratio here is super dramatic–and it goes with the high fashion look.

Saratoga Photographers

This night image was created during the reception between courses at the Automobile Museum in Saratoga Springs NY. This kind of image can be really dramatic and fun.

A Combination of Both:  Sometimes I need to use both natural and artificial lighting.  No problem!

Saratoga Springs Wedding Photographers

One light to camera left–easy to create a dramatic portrait on a super sunny day if you know how to use lights.

Saratoga Prom Senior Photo

A combination of flash and available light was used here so we got a portrait with no “racoon eyes.”  It also allowed me to take control of the lighting pattern on Breezy’s face.

I think the upshot is that proper lighting is all about control.  So which do you prefer?

Did you enjoy this article about lighting and Portrait Photography?  You might like to read this article on Planning a Portrait Session.

Would you like to be photographed?  I would love to talk to you!  Call (518) 584-4237 or fill in our Contact Form today.

Susan Blackburn is a Wedding Photographer and Portrait Photographer in Upstate NY based in the lovely city of Saratoga Springs.