Natural Light Portraits – Mom, at ABC Carpet & Home

There’s something to be said for natural light portraiture. I love studio portraits for the creative control you have- there is no light in a studio portrait but what you put there – if you don’t want it, don’t add it. Working with natural, available light, though, can help you be a better studio photographer as well because it teaches you to really see the light in the scene and understand what you’re looking at. To make a great natural light portrait, you need to look at where the light is coming from, how to position your subject in the scene to maximize the light you have, and where is the best quality of light.

Mom at ABC Home, New York
Mom at ABC Home, New York

Here I was with my mother at ABC Home, a giant (and I do mean giant- seven floors in two buildings on opposite sides of the block on Broadway, including two restaurants) interior decor store in Manhattan. We were on one of the upper floors of the main store (carpets are in the other building across the street), and there was this beautiful diffuse afternoon light pouring through the giant windows. I positioned her so she was bathed in this light. It’s a very flattering light for anyone, especially for women. The light may have been soft and flattering, but even though we were on the 4th floor, we were indoors and buried in the canyons of Manhattan buildings, so the light was quite dim, forcing me to shoot wide open with my Rolleiflex.

One of the great benefits to the Rolleiflex is that since there is no mirror to get out of the way when taking the exposure, you can easily hand-hold exposures that would otherwise be a challenge – this was maybe 1/30th or even 1/15th of a second. Another trick that’s easy on the Rolleiflex is placing focus at the edge of your depth of field, especially useful when you’ve got a busy background that would be distracting if it were sharp. The reason it’ easy on the Rollei is that when you’re looking through the waist-level finder, you can look to the side at the depth of field scale on the top of the focusing knob and quickly roll the focus point to the far end of the depth of field without having to take your eye away from what’s going on in the viewfinder. You can’t do that easily with an SLR which has the DoF indicator on the top of the lens barrel.

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