4 Tips for Better Available Light Portraits

by | Jan 16, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

I think that the best way that you can improve your photography is practice. Shoot each day, each week until you get to where you don’t have to think about how to operate your camera. Don’t worry about producing masterpieces; use your camera as a sketchpad to explore possibilities. And don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes these “sketches” will be successful, sometimes not, but learn from your analysis of the images. All this lead me to develop these simple tips for improving your portrait skills…

Look for convenient indoor locations where the best light is found. While it seems obvious, many photographs are made in locations just where the photographer or their subject decides to make it. This may works for an interesting outdoor location but for indoor portraits place your subject where the light is best. Use wide-open apertures to soften and blur the background and focus attention on your subject. In my former home, my favorite place to shoot portraits is the kitchen where I made the below images. You may have a similar location in your home, and never thought a kitchen or other unlikely location would be a great place to make a portrait or two. Think about it now.

Keep your lighting tools simple. I prefer to work with as few lighting tools as possible because the less time you spend fiddling with equipment, the more time you can spend putting your subject at ease. For my available light portraits, I like using just a single reflector. I mostly use Westcott’s 30-Inch 5-In-1 reflector ($29.90) that collapses to the size of a large pizza.

Watch the background. It’s so easy to become so enthralled by the person that you’re photographing that you forget about the background where you’ve placed them. I believe that if you watch the background, the foreground will take care of itself. Busy, ugly backgrounds can be thrown out of focus by using longer lenses and wide apertures. Outdoors it’s not uncommon to have to physically clean up an outdoor site before you can make a portrait. While you can always digitally remove beer cans and fast food wrappers, taking the time to clean up the trash before you make an outdoor portrait leaves it clean for everybody else too.

Talk to your subject. I’ll never forget the advice one of my mentors gave me many years ago. When I asked him what was the worst thing I could do when photographing people, I expected him to give me some technical tip but his answer surprised me. “If you don’t talk to the people you’re never going make a good picture.” I’ve never forgotten that advice and want to pass it on to you. Photographing people combines elements of psychology as much camera technology and how you personally interact with your subject will have more to do with the success of your session than the camera or lens you decide to use.


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