Using Natural Light For Portrait Quality Photos

There is a lot to be said about having the chance to shoot in a studio filled with expensive lights and equipment perfect for creating the perfect photo.  Unfortunately, most people who love photography as a hobby, don’t have the budget to spend money on a professional lighting equipment setup.  In fact, if you enjoy photo as a hobby but not as a profession, there’s really no reason to spend so much on something that you will use so little.  Here are some ways that you can get studio-quality images simply by using the light you have around you.

Make Your Own Studio Reflectors
If you want to create soft and even light, you need to learn how to “bounce” the light off of the umbrellas or reflectors for the best results.  Although you do need a few lights to do this properly, you can still mimic the effect by making a few homemade reflectors.  A white sheet, large piece of poster board, or even some Styrofoam from a construction site can do wonders in this role, and will help to soften the shadows created when you only have one main light source (like the sun).

Use Backdrops Creatively
You may not be able to have a large selection of photo backdrops like in a professional photo studio, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun creating one of your own.  You can use bed sheets for basic colors and then if you want to get creative you can always use paint to create a pattern or add color.  If you hang these backdrops opposite a large window (or garage door opening), you’ll get the same effects as using a fill light pointed at them. 

Paint the Walls
All surfaces either absorb or reflect light, so wherever you decide to shoot should be designed with this in mind.  If you know you’re not able to add a bunch of lights to a room, try painting the entire thing white (even the floor, if possible).  The white walls will help to bounce the light around for a more even tone.

Know How to Use Your Flash
A direct flash will often make the subject have harsh shadows or look shallow but if used correctly it can be a great lighting tool.  Focus on bouncing it off surfaces around your subject whenever possible, and only use it to fill in the shadows from the front.  One good way to think about using flash, is that if the image doesn’t look like it needs a flash, that’s a good time to use one for additional fill lighting.

Know the Best Time
The brightness and quality of the light will change depending upon the time of day.  By using your homemade reflectors to soften the shadows and your backdrop faced towards the early morning light, you’ll be amazed at the studio-like quality of your portraits.  Try taking photos at different times of day to see how the difference in light impacts the way things turn out, then book your studio sessions in for the times in which you’ll have the best light possible.

It’s important to remember that studio lights, for the most part, were created to simulate the light that we have in our every day lives.  By understanding how to harness the light, you can create beautiful even light in your images that will look like they were taken in an expensive photo studio.  All it takes is a bit of creativity and the will to make it work, and you can have your own makeshift studio in no time at all.  At the end of the day, the only important thing is the result – the method is secondary.