2016 PhotoChallenge Week 3: PORTRAITS – SIMPLE NATURAL LIGHT

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This year it is my hope to offer you opportunities to shoot portraits of people, better than you’ve done before. Snapshots will no longer be acceptable. Planning ahead will be necessary, in order to have success. Using tools to know where the sun will be for outdoor portraits will be hard to not avoid. This is the year to step it up!


With portraiture, you may find that some of the themes overlap a little. Just focus on the published theme, and integrate what else you’ve learned when it’s appropriate.

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This week’s theme of portraiture is a simple single subject in natural light. No deliberate us of artificial light. No flash or speed light. No off camera lights, other than the sun. This doesn’t mean that you must shoot out of doors though. Natural outdoor light, diffused through a window can be the most soft and gorgeous light.

Ben - Stranger #50//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

If you choose to shoot outside, and it’s new for you to do more than snapshot, take into consideration the placement of the sun. In general, shooting in direct sunlight is a terrible mistake. Until you master the artistic value of it, it will only give you darkness on your subject, or yucky shadows. For now, avoid it.

Alice au parc Duden//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Target overcast days, mornings, afternoons, or bounced light. Your subject in a balanced shadow will be real easy to find. Let’s try to focus on a headshot or a bust. No full length yet, just to keep it simple. Simple, simple, simple…and clean balanced light are the goals of this challenge. There’s so much more to consider, and we’ll get to it in time.

A tool that will help you find when and where the sun will rise, set, and be above is The Photographer’s Ephemeris. There is a browser app, and mobile apps. Buy them! The iOS version is $8.99, just bite the bullet! I have it on my iPhone 6S Plus, and my iPad Air 2. Unbelievable tools to plan for where the sun will be. Trust me, once you start using it, you’ll wonder how you ever planned a photograph without it. The desktop app, via the browser, is free. So you can play with it, and realize what you’re missing.

Here’s a few articles that will expand upon what I’ve shared much better:

Oh, and one more thing…I’m adding one guideline for my themes only. Each portrait you shoot must be a new subject, all year. That’ll only end up being 12 or 13 portraits, so sniveling won’t be tolerated. 🙂

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge.org or #photochallenge2015.
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • The posted image should be a photograph, not a video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2016 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.
  • Each portrait subject must be a new one, over the course of the 2016 PhotoChallenge.

[Featured Image Credit: “Portrait” by Maikel Stone.]

About Steve Troletti

I'm a Location Scout, Editorial, Nature, Wildlife and Environmental Photographer based in Malibu, California. I specialize in Nature and Urban Nature photography including Infrared Landscapes. The Bulk of my work takes place in the Los Angeles, California area, Greater Montreal Region, Canada, Switzerland, France and Varese in Northern Italy. Ethical wildlife photography is the main priority and focus of my work. A minimum disturbance of the animals, their habitat and the environment is my top priority. This applies as much to total wilderness areas as it does to urban nature environments. Ongoing education of environmental issues and building awareness for the protection of wildlife and wilderness areas around the world is what drives me to document the beauty that surrounds us.