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Natural Light Photography

Lesson 4 of 7

Make a Silhouette with V-Flats

Sue Bryce

Natural Light Photography

Sue Bryce

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Lesson Info

4. Make a Silhouette with V-Flats
Not all natural window light is soft. Using V-flats to block off all but a little sliver of light from the window creates hard, directional light that's gutsy and beautiful. Watch how to make that harsh light work with specific posing to allow that light to fall perfectly on the face. Sue also suggests using this type of lighting to photograph men, as well as some maternity, boudoir and artistic shots.

Lesson Info

Make a Silhouette with V-Flats

So how do I create hard light when I'm shooting in my studio? I turn the V-flats around, so the reality is is you're gonna need four V-Flats, and before I had black V-Flats, what did I use? Black curtains. In my studio, I paid for netting curtains, block out curtains, black curtains, and for 16 years, those were the three things I used, now instead of black curtains, I just use black foam core. Now if Danielle comes and stands by this light source, and this camera here picks her up over here, then it stands to reason that the light on Danielle right now is going to be a lot harder, okay? So the smaller the light source, the harder it gets, and I call this the silhouette. Now if you look on the screen right now, and if you have a look, you have a look at the setup there, I've got a V-Flat, there's a slit of light, and that sliver of light can be about that wide and it's just going to come in and it's a hard light. So rule number one with a sliver of light, is she needs to be posed towar...

ds the light. This is not, this little segment is more about how you make this work than if you've been trying to capture the light, because it's quite obvious. So let me show you, when I put this up against there, and you do the same Danielle, it's not gonna work as a shot because we don't have a background and there's a light behind her, but I'm gonna show you the posing that I need to do. If Danielle stays away from the window, then she's gonna get that really hard light on her face. She's gotta pose towards the window, and then she has that beautiful light on her face, but it's directional. So if you have a look at the silhouette, she's standing 45 degrees to me, so 45 degrees meaning that way, okay, that is the sliver of light. She's on the edge of this window. So on this camera, she is not standing in the light source, she's standing behind the light source, she's standing back there, and the light is just touching her, and it's enough. This is really good for boudoir, it's really good for nude, it's really good for maternity, it's really good for couples, it's really, 'cause it's dark, and gutsy, and beautiful, and it's how I would photograph men. Can you come towards me, what's your name? Keith. Keith, come here Keith. Okay, Danielle, just stand there. Now look at the difference between men and women. When you stand a man in hard light, they look more handsome. It's just not fair. (audience laughs) You know, you guys you get wrinklier, you get grayer, you get hotter, and then the worst thing is you not only get hotter, you can actually stand in crappy light an you look even more, it's just not fair. So it's the opposite for the girls. The boys can stand close to this window, they can stand in hard light, you can put as much shadow as you want on there, and their faces look stronger, their jaws look stronger, their eyes look stronger, their noses look stronger, it is sexier, it is stronger, it is beautiful, and it is the opposite of girls. So the silhouette I use for couples, maternity, women, arty styled shots, boudoir, and thank you Keith, very handsome. (audience laughs) And I just want you to look at the different poses. Obviously her face has to be, to some degree, towards that sliver of light. Now what other poses, if she's maternity, she can be here, around her belly, if it's boudoir, she can be touching, she can use her body shape, if it's a couple, you're getting a wash of light coming across them, they can be entwined, more art style, not portrait portrait, portrait is light them up, okay? Making that sliver of light, calling it the silhouette, putting the black light in, this is negative fill, it's gonna take the light out of the room, you're gonna just have that hard silhouette, and remember, if the light source is really hot in there, if it's really bright, diffuse more. Get your fabric, and hang more fabric, bunch it up and do what you have to do to diffuse the light coming through the sliver right? Any questions? Where do you expose? Where do you expose on the silhouette? So you've got a hot highlight, you've got a dark room, where you shift your exposure will change the image significantly. If you underexpose it, the room's gonna go black, and then your highlight is gonna be nice and even, if you go too far over your highlights are gonna burn out, and sometimes your room's gonna light up, but you'll be a little under exposed looking, so you're gonna have to watch the back of your camera to make sure you get an even exposure. But if you're shooting in RAW, you're gonna be fine. Okay, really, you're gonna be fine. If I had a choice between being slightly under and being slightly over, in the silhouette, I'm gonna treat it like the black backdrop and shoot it slightly under, and then the highlights are gonna be even, the room's gonna be dark, the only thing you're going to worry about now is flattering her face. 'Cause if she's a woman, and she's in this light, and she turns away here, she's going to hate the photograph. So get her face into the light. So that's just a way of creating just dramatic natural light when you don't have the resource.

Class Description


  • Manipulate available light to create a flattering light source
  • Eliminate harsh shadows using simple accessories
  • Create multiple types of light from a single window
  • Capture beautiful outdoor portraits whether it's a sunny day or cloudy day
  • Work with direct light, directional light, and backlight
  • Professionally light portraits using free natural light and inexpensive modifiers
  • Create your own inexpensive lighting tools


Sometimes, the best light in photography is free. In this 90-minute class, learn how to manipulate ambient lighting into studio-like lighting conditions. From window light to working outdoors, learn to harness available light to create a variety of styles, from soft, flattering portraits to dramatic directional light. Go behind-the-scenes of a live natural light shoot with artist Sue Bryce to bounce light, bend light, soften light, and create drama with intense light.

While natural light is beautiful, it's also affordable. Work with inexpensive accessories like $35 V-flats and a $15 homemade scrim to turn a single window into several lighting patterns using different techniques. Discover how to use modifiers to turn bad light into the kind of light that flatters anyone. Then in the final lesson, learn how to replicate natural light with studio lighting gear for beautiful light at any time.


  • Beginning photographers eager to learn simple lighting
  • Intermediate photographers ready to expand lighting skills
  • Photographers struggling to manipulate natural light


Portrait artist Sue Bryce built a career on using natural light. Her lighting style helps create contemporary, fashion-inspired portraiture without expensive studio gear. Awarded the Portrait Photographer of the Year -- twice -- Sue is a master portrait photographer specializing in a style of portraiture that helps women recognize their own beauty.

Ratings and Reviews

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AnnaGeo Jump

Such an amazing way to use natural light and get great results. Sue you have an artistic and practical way to see everything around you, and this course opens our minds to endless possibilities around us that can help us to achieve the most beautiful results with natural light and simple materials. Thank you as always!

Noel Guevara

Fantastic course! I got this for $29 and it's the most bang-for-the-buck purchase I've made here in creative live. Sue is undoubtedly an expert, and I love her no-fuss, direct method of teaching. Her lighting hacks are also great tips. At first I was apprehensive because of reviews of her course with Felix Kunze, where she was described as overpowering and defensive, but after seeing this I now understand her background, and learned that she actually has great respect for Felix. Buy it. You'll learn a lot about natural light in one go.

Kelly Cas

definitely good for a beginner who doesn't yet have the time or money to invest in expensive equipment. i love her sharp personality and she is clearly passionate about what she does, infusing the whole atmosphere with fun