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Create Natural Light

Lesson 31 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

Create Natural Light

Lesson 31 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

31. Create Natural Light

Placing lights where they'd naturally be in the space helps create flattering, dramatic lighting that doesn't look terribly out of place. Work in the shooting space with initial lighting and start shooting.


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Introduction to The Environmental Portrait


Environmental Portrait Purpose


Personal Work


Find Your Process




Purpose For Action Editorial


Prepare for Shoot


Lesson Info

Create Natural Light

Creating natural light like we want to do in this shoot, we begin shooting and you need to remember to slow down. This is not a race, there's not a countdown, I mean sometimes there is but for the most part, you're not racing the clock to get this shot and I know a lot of times it's all fun and games when you're planning the shoot or when you're photographing your friends for fun, but as soon as there's a paying client or any sort of parameters that kind of add a little bit of stress, things seem to speed up in your head. So just remember, that's why you want that checklist. It's slowing down, taking the time to really make the frame and if things aren't right, have the self-discipline to stop and fix it right there because again, you don't need to sit on the computer, and some things aren't fixable later and you're just left with something you can't use. So slow down and get everything how you want it. Check your list from time to time in order to make sure you captured all you need. ...

You don't need to be staring at it the entire time. Usually I'll get to a stopping point where I feel like okay, we got some good action shots here, let me mess with the computer and the tethering and I'll look at my list and I'm thinking okay this lens, oh yeah I forgot to switch lenses. Let me get one more shot of you but with a different lens. Because as soon as the action happens, a lot of times you forget those things and again, it's a real bummer later on. And then lastly, interact with your subject both with positive feedback and suggestions. So she has her process that she's going to be going through with painting and she might do the same thing over and over but from a photo standpoint, there might be a slight angle that's stronger or being ambidextrous, she might face both directions. I'm only putting my light from one direction so I generally want her facing towards that light so if for an unknown reason she just starts going the other direction, well all of the sudden you're getting a lot of photos of the back of her head, and I can give her a little feedback like oh yeah that's great, but I think it's even better when you face this way and then she'll just do that. And it's not like I'm like turn around and do this. It's kind of a little gentle interaction that kind of makes the photo even better and again, it can push your photos even further and sometimes people get ideas from that and so. Now let's start getting into the shoot with creating the actual light. We'll introduce the strobes, do a little more testing, and begin shooting with Alicia in her space. Alright now that we've fully established our frame, the next thing I want to do is kind of just the final steps to get all the technical stuff out of the way. So we're shooting with one light. There's enough ambient light in here and I want that light and airy feel. That we've put the pro photo with the magnum reflector and the sock on there. I took the half CTO off because it was too warm so now it's just kind of matching the ambient. It's like 5500 Calvin as far as light temperature goes for white balance. The next thing I'm gonna do is go in and meter. So I'm gonna take my light meter. I'm shooting at ISO 250, one hundredth of a second to let in enough light through the window to blow it out. And then I've decided that I'm going to shoot at F 5. so what I need to do is take my light trigger, go around to where Alicia will be working, and I'm just gonna pop a flash right in here to make sure the exposure's good, we're right at 5. so we're good, not gonna lie, I definitely tweaked it a few times to get there. So wasn't that lucky. So we're all set with the meter reading. Now we can go ahead and just shoot so Alicia can just kind of take us through what she's going to do, we've set the frame as far as added little accessories and things like that to create the depth we talked about earlier. So we set one of the blow torches, some of the brushes and things in the foreground. We added another piece of art to add more color and fill in the area that there was a gap where it was just a lot of the workspace without any color or texture and that's pretty much it. So you can kind of take us through what you're going to do. And I'll just be framing up and getting some ideas as far as alternate frames. I brought in a stepladder so I could do some overhead shots. That's going off my checklist of different angles. And we'll just start shooting for 10 minutes or so and get all the pictures we can. I'm gonna be moving around a little bit, too. Yeah yeah, do whatever's natural to you. I'm just gonna wait 'til you get to a spot where I know it's going to be flattering and it's going to look good with the light so you don't even think about having your photo taken. You just work. I'll worry about making sure the photo looks good. And I don't have to talk right? No, I would prefer you don't. (laughs) I would prefer you don't as far as having your mouth open, talking. Sorry. Gotcha, so I won't. I'm gonna be loading up my brushes and just bringing them over here. I have to work pretty quickly because again, that wax is getting cool as soon as my brush is out of the pot so it looks a little frantic consequently because there is that urgency. So I'm just gonna be working and you can just say stop or hold it there or wait or do it again and I'm just gonna paint like I'm painting. Alright, perfect. So again, I'm just gonna wait until she gets to the right spots where we kind of set up in frames, and then I'm just gonna shoot away 'cause you never know when the right moment is there. It's a mix of authenticity with planning so it's kind of a setup that has a nice balance and I'm just gonna keep shooting with different focal lengths and angles, knowing that I have the same frame basically the whole time and where that frame will end on the left side and the right side, top and bottom. And I will, every so often, take a look at the computer. That's the beauty of shooting tethered that way I can make sure everything is how it's supposed to be. All the lights are firing, well, all one of them is firing and that the balance is there so it's looking really good. And one thing about using that magnum reflector, you can adjust the spread of the light. I have it set to maximum spread so that way she can move around within the space, and the light's basically going to be the same. And when you're working with a hard light source like a magnum, you want to keep it further away from your subject because as far as something like this where she could be moving up to 40 inches left and right, I don't want the fall off to be so great so the closer the light is to your subject, the faster it falls off if they move. By having my light, you know, 12 feet away from her, the fall off when she moves over this 30 inch area isn't that great so it's maybe a third of a stop so it's easily fixable and not even noticeable by most people. So that's another tip, just to keep hard light sources further away from your subject 'cause it'll give you more range to work in and she can just do her thing. And another thing to think about when you're shooting, too, if it's for a client and not personal work or even if it is for personal work to remember to do horizontals and verticals. It's important if this were for an ad for who knows what, it could be for a billboard which would need a horizontal layout or might be for a magazine which would then usually call for a vertical layout so. I always try to shoot both of those things. I'll put that in my notebook as well, horizontals and verticals, that way I know afterwards if this was for a client, they could say oh here's the layout, here's where the text is going to go, do you have anything that has more space on top? Well, if I didn't shoot any verticals, I would be a little bit annoyed with myself and they would probably be annoyed as well. So just knowing that framing it out for horizontals and verticals. So we're gonna shoot some horizontals, leaving room at the bottom with all the artwork and some leaving space at the top. Alright, and when she goes over there, I'm gonna not shoot just because she's getting so close to the light, and that's not really the frame I want anyways. So I'll just let her work and now she's back into the great spot of the frame. The other thing with using a 24 to 70 lens that helps me is you can compress the background differently. I'm now zoomed in almost all the way to 70. While it's a different frame than I initially thought, I do enjoy the fact that we can have that compression of the background. It brings the color of the artwork behind her really into focus and it adds even more depth to the foreground because these are, they go from being objects to just colors. So it's just a different look and I feel like a lot of times photographers go into a photoshoot with one picture in their head and they stick to that. I like to have a picture in my head for purposes of planning but then I like to use a lens that zooms like this because some of the best shots might happen on accident or be things that you couldn't even see in your head beforehand so I like giving myself those options of zooming in, out, standing up high to get a more graphic approach, go down low to get a different visual. Just a lot of different viewpoints and angles and things like that and again, leaving space to the left of the frame with the windows, to the right, so right now we're just shooting horizontals, leaving space off to the left. From closeup to zooming out to far away. I just like to have all the options so again when I go back and look at everything afterwards, there's options for everybody and I feel like the whole shoot got all possibilities. Ooh, there's a really great frame there. And a lot of times when I'm going through, looking at tethering, I'll mark them. So using capture one you can just hit one through five on your keyboard. I just hit one and it stars them so that way I remember later, I can just view the ones that are starred and those were ones that had immediate impact or kind of fit everything I was going for with the shoot. Also, it's important to put a card in because occasionally you'll shoot too fast or you'll lose connection and the photos won't be lost, they'll go to your card. So while I'm shooting tethered with the idea that everything's going straight to the computer, occasionally things happen and those photos aren't lost. So you can see there's seven frames. I knew one of them was missing from the tether from that I shot but they're here too so then I'll just combine them into that folder afterwards. So I'm just gonna keep shooting. I'm actually gonna stay on the stepladder for a few shots. It looks like she's scraping away. So what is that right there that you're doing? I laid down a color and while I want it to be in the underpainting here, I don't want it to be such a prominent one so it's pulling some back up. Again, one of the lovely things about ink cost. Oh yeah, and this is a totally different viewpoint that I didn't think I was gonna shoot before, but now that I'm looking at it on the screen, it's really cool, especially with the piece of art that she put in the middle of the table. It's just adding a lot of warmth. There's a lot of blues going on in this room, but there's this pop of warmth at the top of the frame and now at the bottom with that. It's kind of like a lot of cool colors framed in by some warmth and I'm really liking what that did to the frame. We're gonna shoot a few verticals here. If I do have a shot list from a client, if it's editorial or commercial, a lot of times I'm just making sure that well for one, we talked about why the shot list is what it is, what are these pictures gonna be used for, what are they thinking, it's definitely a collaboration, but I'm also keeping in mind to make sure that I get all the shots that they want plus all the shots that I want and then also any sort of shots that happen in between, things that you didn't expect or might just happen within the moment or the location. And that's actually what just happened with that vertical one. I didn't think about getting something that was so graphic looking down but knowing that there was a stepladder here and all that, it's kind of adding a fun happy accent to the shot list that I didn't even plan on doing. So shot lists are important, especially for commercial clients but for the most part, I like to cover it all anyways from a wide shot to zoomed into vertical to horizontal and the whole works. And again, always remember that if it's for an ad or editorial, there's always gonna be some sort of graphic element added later whether it's text to the frame or whether it's placement within a magazine or a billboard or anything like that. So leaving subject on left, subject on right, subject in the lower third, upper third, things like that, and shoot to get all of it. Again, that's in my notes so that way I know that I'll have all the options for the client or myself or the subject afterwards. And it looks like she has a blowtorch in hand so I think it's about to get pretty interesting in here. So what do you do next? Is this where you reheat it? Yes, so any time you apply the wax to the surface, you have to reliquify it to bond it. So I'm gonna be blasting the whole surface here so I will be moving. Perfect. And here we go. Alright. I'm just shooting. It's a blue flame, it's a little bit hard to see, but it might be something that you can bring back in post even more and this frame right now is absolutely perfect, especially with her facing towards the light, we got like this is exactly the picture that I had in my mind when we started so that's always a good feeling when you know that the picture you want to create is coming to life on top of all the ones that happen just organically that work throughout the shoot. I'm gonna switch. I got a lot of horizontals. Time to do some verticals just so I have them. Again, I'm always paying attention to the frame as well, what's behind her, where her head lines up within the frame based on the artwork and other possible distracting elements. Now that I feel like I've covered that angle pretty thoroughly, I'm just gonna let myself move around within the space a little bit. The lighting might not be perfect or maybe it is, I don't know yet, 'cause these are kind of when you, once you've hit the shot you want, a lot of times that's when the pressure's off. It's like we've gotten the safe shot, we've gotten the shot that the client wants or the shot that's in your head. Now it's time to see what can happen if you just keep shooting and pushing beyond the limits of what you had planned. I'm just kind of going with it. (muffled voice) Okay. Alright, so now you get a little bit of a better idea of how I interact with the subject. The photos you were seeing were just raws so they haven't had anything done to them. In fact they don't even have the filters or any of the color grading or anything I was applying for shadows and highlights to those. Those were just straight up raw images so you can see technically, there isn't much exposure correction that needs to happen. There's a lot of leeway for added contrast and coloration. So that's kind of a good feeling when the absolute raw image comes across color-wise and exposure-wise that crisp and clean. So again, you saw how we interacted with her. Let her do her thing. I just want to let those moments happen, and you can see she started off painting, and that wasn't the exact frame that I wanted, but when she got out that torch and she had her head at a different angle and she was holding it facing the light, all of a sudden it all started to click and come together. So for me, that was the moment where I thought alright I need to shoot this a lot because this is going to be that frame that's the picture that's in my head, it's the most flattering shot, it's the one we set up the lighting for. Anything that happens after that like those overhead shots or any of that is all a bonus and then again, switching lenses later and shooting from a longer focal length just to get closeups. You'll see once we move to the next videos later on that I started using just natural light for a couple because I felt like okay, we have all the light shots, the lit shots that we want, let's see what the natural light looks like. If it doesn't work out, that's fine, and let's focus on her hands. She was scraping wax and heating up all that stuff. So it's like maybe this looks like something that might be beneficial to photograph because we already have the shot we need, now the pressure's off, and you'll see the thing I'm most excited about is getting into this real clear, still portrait we take of her within the space and yeah. So with that said, any questions so far about anything we've covered so far this morning? So I was wondering for your shot list, do you only write down what you want to take pictures or do you draw or print pictures to inspire you during the photoshoot? Yeah, so for the most part, when I get to the location I'm only writing down a list. But a lot of times, I'm not very good at drawing but what I do draw is a light diagram so I might do a quick rough sketch of the room, almost like a blueprint where I'm thinking it's 10 feet from here to here, it's 16 feet from here to here. If I put my light in this direction, these are where the shadows are gonna end up so just some thoughts like that. The only drawing I really do is an overhead view, like I said, almost like a lighting diagram. And that's just so I can see technically where things need to happen or if something's not turning out how I think it should, I can kind of troubleshoot by looking at the overhead view and thinking okay if this light's here, do I need another light over here or in the case of that room, you saw we had two lights to start but I ended up only using one which was that magnum reflector because the room was all white. So there was enough bounce happening, even the ceiling was painted white so there was enough reflection of light happening in there that I didn't need to start for one, wasting batteries, when we're on location and two, confusing myself and adding more light. So if I can get away with just using one light and ambient I do it but to get back to your question, my shot list is strictly a list. The only drawing I really do is of a lighting diagram because if I try and start drawing pictures of subjects, that's why I'm a photographer, I can't draw. (laughs) Any other questions? So you mentioned getting your subject to kind of be in the natural environment is important. I was kinda hoping you could speak on, let's say in this case Alicia's painting, you have an idea pop into your head. How apt are you to disrupt what's going on to act on that idea or is that something you maybe keep in the back of your head, maybe try to reach that later, just wondering what you would do in that situation. That happens a lot. I'll be inspired by something and rather than instantly act on that, I'll mention it to her because otherwise I'll forget. I'll say something along the lines of hey when you get to a good stopping point, let me know and I have an idea for another shot. So I kind of let her finish what she's doing so we're not interrupting the work but at the same time, I do definitely get those ideas and I put that out there. But usually I kind of let it happen rather than force it so yep, that happens all the time. Cassandra who says I see him moving his thumb around the back of your camera with your right hand. With all the settings fixed, what is he changing? Is that where you're focusing? She says I'm interested in how he's keeping crisp focus on his subject with her moving around. So I use all the focus points on there and on a Nikon, I do have shutter press for my main focus but then once I've kind of actuated that, I move the focus point so the little red rectangle within the view finder around, and as I was changing up frames from moving her from the right third to the left third, I'm always changing that focus point because I'm just using a single spot for focus. Same with when I turn it from vertical, and it's one of those things where it's a little tricky to get used to but I've done it for so many years now that other people have mentioned that, too. They're like you're really good at sharpness even though you're moving and I just am constantly moving that thing around and I don't even know I'm doing it. It just happens. So that's what I'm doing with my thumb. I'm always moving that focus box from, it's getting a workout from left to right and up and down. Great, thank you for that. Question from Steven and I think you kind of touched on it but are you aware of and thinking about text that might be placed over an image, especially if it's some kind of an assignment or you're hoping to have it in a magazine. Oh yeah, yeah, of course. And I mentioned that a couple times in there but the main thing is getting all the possible coverage so I'm always thinking not only might the text go on the left but if I leave the window here, that's an easier point for them to add a lighter color gradient to add that text or any of those type of things. I'm definitely conscious of that, and a lot of times that'll come within a shot list or if it's for an ad, you might get some visuals ahead of time that kind of show the comps of what the ad's gonna look like or what they have an idea for with sample text and someone else who can draw will draw that up so I'll go off that but for the most part, I'm definitely trying to get all the coverage from wide to closeup, left to right spacing, up and down, the whole works so that way we don't have to extend the frame or do anything special afterwards. Let's talk about how we can follow you online since we've got that slide. I'm not a huge social media person. Being a photographer, I'm all about the Instagram so yeah, you can find me at @DanBrouillette. There's the spelling. It's a little tricky. And I generally just post some stuff on my story from some behind the scenes stuff and some of my images with long explanations, being a lighting guy, most of the shots that I post to my feed that are lit all explain all the equipment we used, why we used it, and kind of geek out a little bit with that photo talk along with the backstory of the subject. And you'll see some pretty good pictures of my dogs. All good things

Ratings and Reviews

Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience for this class and absolutely loved it. Watching Dan create amazing images from start to finish in front of us was so inspiring. I've learned so much from this class. It actually gave me the confidence to start playing with lights in my studio. It was really useful to see how he sets his lights and how he can easily mix ambient light with artificial. I also love how he focuses on getting the image right in the camera to only do light edits after. I recommend this class to anyone wanting to learn more about lighting, shooting tethered and editing efficiently!

a Creativelive Student

I love this guy! I so appreciate his honesty while he is explaining his thought process, admitting that his “shoulda/coulda/woulda’s” - which I experience ALL the time. I am now going to dust off my light meter and start using it on location as I’m convinced that it works now that I’ve seen Dan’s class. I enjoyed the detailed way he sets up each light individually, checking to make sure it adds the amount and quality of light he wants. Definitely recommend this class - especially for those people who have experience using studio lights and want to see how they can be used to get specific results. Dan’s clear, simple explanations, his unabashed humility, and his sense of humor made this a truly enjoyable way to spend my time learning his methods.

a Creativelive Student

Dan is an excellent instructor! He's completely transparent with his thought processes, from technical to creative. He doesn't waste time horsing around or getting off topic, but is structured and sticks to his outline. Every minute watched is on topic, and is understandable. He's sincere and likable. The course is great for anyone interested in this genre!

Student Work