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Shooting in Natural Light

Lesson 4 of 6

Create Impactful & Compelling Images

Dave Krugman

Shooting in Natural Light

Dave Krugman

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Lesson Info

4. Create Impactful & Compelling Images

Lesson Info

Create Impactful & Compelling Images

Now that I've kind of talked through like this physicality of light and the physical nature of light. Like how do we utilize this knowledge to create compelling work. So I think that as an artist or photographer you're gonna find yourself in all sorts of different environments. And armed with this understanding, and your intention and style, you're gonna be closer to creating the work that you wanna make. So let's talk about the different types of light and I'm gonna show some examples. So diffused light through a window, is really my favorite light for kind of intimate portraits or just kind of beautifully soft scenes. This image right here, is lit from both sides by what I would call diffused window light. So this type of lighting right here is actually very similar to the light that we're all in right now. It's kind of directional, really soft. And the fact that we're inside the building, and its kind of, you can see, you can imagine the direction of the light coming this way. And a...

little fill coming back from this way. Now this was a good example of a situation where I really enjoyed the diffused light in the room. Anybody know this guy, Gallant? He's a really great artist. So, I love natural light and diffused light for portraiture because it just kid of gives this like perfect balance to me of light and shadow. And you know, where we place people, how close we place them to the window, and in this case, I kind of put up a black piece of kind of sheer fabric to further diffuse the light. This is an example to me of like a good half lit portrait using diffused light. Yeah, I think, for some reason my aesthetic, I'm just always attracted towards window light and there's just something beautifully like soft and like you can really, it's like having a soft box just built into the wall or something like that. So I think this was an example of kind of like the softness of natural light and especially when it's a little bit more indirect light. Again, back to Cuba. Light coming in from the side and you'll notice as we move through the directionality of light, that the direction that you're light is coming from is really important to the overall structure of whatever image you're gonna make. So if this guy was lit from behind, you just wouldn't see that his emotion, you wouldn't see that trail of smoke. And even like the colors in the picture would be completely different so. Diffused light can be, it doesn't have to be a window. So like if you have a cloudy day, this is in Washington Square Park. One of my favorite diffusers in the world is an overcast day. It's just, you know, the light might look really even everywhere but, there's still the sun behind the clouds and there's still directionality to that light. So for example, in this portrait, she's looking exactly where the sun would be so you get this really nice even light like pointed from you know, from A to B but through a layer of clouds and that's why you get such a soft, kind of look to this frame. Again, yeah, just the directionality of the light. This has a little bit of back lighting coming through the slots. But mostly, this is lit from a doorway about five feet to the left. And this actually from our trip together in Cuba. (laughs) Remember this guy? Good times. This is shot, I have a natural light studio in New York that I have been working in and this is shot in there. And again, it's just, it's a room much like we're in today. And I can change the light completely just depending on where I put my subject, where I put my seamless, where I put my backdrop. And working with that one light source, you can crate work that, to me looks almost studio lit. So, I don't think that working with just natural light, you're necessarily very limited. Again, just another example of an overcast, diffused light and I'm gonna keep moving here. This is actually shot in kind of a different type of diffused light which is blue hour. So blue hour is basically like right after the sun goes down. There's this kind of, the world is still kinda glowing a little bit. And that can be a really compelling time to make images as well. Like you don't need it to be a cloudy day to get a beautiful soft light. You just gotta wait for the right time of day. So now talking about direct light. Direct light is also really fun to work with. It's usually a little harsher. It throws really deep shadows. I love working with contrast in my photography and direct light is a really great way to like kick up that contrast a lot. Working with this type of light, again, it's as much about working with shadow as it is about working with light. I think it's a really interesting thing if you can internalize that that it's you know, I love the binary nature of light and how you can, if you can understand the shadow, the absence of light, you can learn a lot about light. One of the ways that I make sure my subjects are well lit is I'll look at their shadow. 'Cause if I can see their whole outline of their shadow, for example, in direct light, I know that al the light's hitting them. If their shadow's cut off a little bit, I know that we're missing a little bit of light maybe. So it's kind of an interesting way to understand light is to look at the shadow. Yeah this is just kind of an example of that. I was looking at the shadows and kind of, if I shoot from the other side, I'm working with light. But if I shoot from this side, I'm kind of working with shadows a little more. Again, taking what I learn by walking around the city and doing street photography and bringing that back into portraiture, has been such a great education. This is an example of a shot I got. Seeing where the light was, seeing where the shadow was and then just waiting for the right subjects to move through that frame. And kind of preconceiving in my mind like where the light exists and what we can make out of it. And same beam of light, different angle, different approach. This was a little more side lit and again, what I just said about the shadows where we can understand he's really, we can tell he's really well lit. I mean because you sit but also because that shadow is complete. I think that's an interesting component. So, applying that to portraiture is understanding that I could've just, we could've just taken the shot straight up direct light but understanding that we can bring shadow elements back into it to kinda create this new idea or new story or new concept is really interesting. It's like reintroducing shadow back into the light is something I really love to work with, with direct light. Again, this photo to me is more interesting because we're, it's not just direct light coming through and hitting her. It's kind of this balance of texture and shadow that we've reintroduced into the frame by understanding the way that light works and the way that shadow works. Again, using light as a, this is pretty much just a straight up direct light shot. A little harsh, very contrasty but, understanding that with light, we can create frames. We can create a nicer place for the subject to sit in the frame by understanding where the light is and where the shadow is. This is an example of a couple different types of light and a couple different layers. But again, understanding that she's in the direct light. She's surrounded by shadow and a very conscious decision to use that block of light as a frame for the subject. If she's on the edge of that piece of light, I don't think this is as compelling a photograph. So, being aware and conscious of how the light affects your frame is a huge part of shooting direct light. So let's move on to reflected light. I really love reflected light because this is when things start to get really complex and interesting to me. One of my favorite things games to play when I'm doing street photography in New York is kind of following light all the way back to its primary source. So, if it's the sun and then it hits a building and then it hits the mirror of a taxi cab and hits somebody's sunglasses and then hits a mirror in a cosmetic store, you can kind of like, even without a camera, think about how much you can learn just by walking through the world and like looking at these things and making these observations. And then taking all that new knowledge and the way that interacts with different mediums, applying that to your commercial work or your portraiture work, it's just like you come in with a whole new arsenal. And I'm gonna show you this example. And the more you do this too, the more you shoot using reflections, the more you notice how much light is constantly bouncing all over the place. It's really fascinating. It's like a fun puzzle you get to solve everyday. So this is shot through a window with a reflection of buildings in the background. And to me like, that layering makes it so much more of an interesting shot than just a straight up picture of someone's face. It gives it context. It gives it, just a much more interesting look to me and adds all these interesting mood lines and stuff like that. So I'm always looking for ways to incorporate reflection and reflected light into my natural light work. This is two mirrors that are kind of angled at different, there's just hanging on a wall but I noticed that they kind of had a converging angle. So I had my friend Mel go to the window on the opposite side of the room so I'm actually shooting against the wall into the mirrors and she's in the window light by the door. But just the fact that I understand that those two reflections are converging right where my, right where I put my camera and moving into that position, that all comes from just thinking about the way that light moves through the world and the way that light is reflected off different surfaces. So this is one of my favorite examples of using reflected light and texture and layering. This is actually just a single shot. It kinda looks like a double exposure. And when I put this up online, like people kept commenting they're like, is this a double exposure? Like what's going on here? And I kept re explaining no like actually this is just the reflected light in a window near the side of a garage. And I ended up posting the next version of it which actually you'll see exactly how I made this image. So basically, I was shooting in the window, the diffused kind of window light and I noticed that there's this incredibly clear reflection in the wood. So, if we go back to this other frame, you could see what I did was I just moved myself over a little bit, ignored the subject, the direct subject entirely and actually only picked up the reflected light off the window and you can create such a compelling, I mean to me, a compelling portrait, just by kind of understanding that sometimes, you can just work with the reflected light. I think it's really interesting. Yeah and this is an interesting shot to 'cause it counterbalances it. But we'll talk about more about that in the composition section. So understanding all of this about light allows you to see light in new ways to understand directionality, to realize how it changes in its journey to your sensor and understand how to work with all the variables at your disposal to create the best work possible. Photography is about telling a story in a frame, and the decisions you make about light affect that story and it can communicate so many different ideas. I'm gonna, it gives you the ability to kinda like look a little bit forward into the future and imagine what you can make with the light that is available to you. This is to me is an example, is like oh well like, she has this gorgeous, golden hair. Like if we can catch it just at the right amount of backlight and side light, I think it'll really glow. Testing that out, probably taking 50 different frames and finally getting one that has the right shape and the right light. Again, back light can be counter intuitive. You'd think that by putting a light behind somebody, you're always gonna put them in the shadow but that's not necessarily true. You can, light's bouncing around in the world in so many different ways. You can find spaces where you can have side light and back light and a little bit of everything and make a dramatic portrait. The difference between back light and diffused light, again, this is just is just diffused by the clouds. An easy shot to get. This I included because there's this part in New York where it's kind of like a glass, almost like a glass tunnel and the light comes in and just creates this like glowing reflected beautiful light and it's just to me, this is an example of using natural light in a way that looks like it's almost shot in the studio or something like that. This is that same room as the first diffused light shot but this is a back lit version and this to me really shows, the versatility of one source of light. Again this is, shooting in the streets, learning about light. And this actually indirect light. This is reflected light off of the building. And this is kind of what I mean by, if you walk around, you can see like the different types of light and imagine where they are in physical space. So I knew that when he was walking through this particular patch, I knew exactly that I'd get this kind of shadow that kind of is preceding him which makes an interesting shot to me. Combining different types of light, back light, side light and reflected light here. There's light hitting off the window. There's light coming in directly from the side. And then it just creates this like really nice little vignette here. This is again a shot to me that looks like it could be professionally lit but its actually just like the very last few breaths of sunlight in the botanical gardens in Denver and then moving on to more back lighting and understanding that you can really get some interesting elements by just positioning your light in really interesting places. Right here the sun is just over the top of her her right shoulder but it's like also picking up in her hair and you get this beautiful sense of motion but you wouldn't get it without that back light. Again, working with shadow as much as light I think is really important. I love the texture of the light coming through the little kind of like pinpoint bits of the hat and just, you can barely see him smoking a cigar but that adds to the drama of this photograph and understanding what a different shot this would be if you shot it from the side or from the front, I think is an interesting observation. Yeah again, that's my friend Charlie and, this is an example of using really strong back lighting with a really small aperture so you get a flare. And then I actually had a reflector on this side so some of the light that was coming through reflected back into the scene can really give a nice fill. And create this balance of light that's a lot better than just the previous shot which is completely unlit from the front. I think you get a lot more information here and we get a much better picture for the purposes of the subject. But the decision for this is intentional as well. It's just like depends on what I'm photographing. So for this, I like beautiful eyes, and definitely wanted to get a little light flowing back up into those shadows. This is an example of like one of my favorite lighting situations I've been in because this beautiful dome in the Denver Botanic Gardens and it was really sunny but, you could just kind of like step just into the into the shadow and get this really like brilliant glow. And it kind of, different shapes and colors and stuff like that. And again, right place, right time. Sometimes the natural light just blows me away, especially in New York. The sunset's gonna be really magnificent and you can even see the light is almost purple. Just because of the time of day and where we're shooting from. Another example of just like how the light can glow and just be kind of magnificent and this isn't even, I didn't even add a fill into this. It's just the light was bouncing all around the roof and there's kind of like a white surface behind me and so the light's coming in from the back and hitting the white surface behind me and back into the frame a little bit. So it's... You can really do a lot with natural light. This I included because he's cutting on a metal cutting board and so there's light hitting him directly and it created this really harsh shadows. But then light was hitting the cutting board and bouncing back up into his face and filling it and you can really see this looks like, to me it looks like a it looks like lighting from a movie or something like that but it's really just looking at the world and you can kind of start to have this fluency for light and what might be happening and where subjects are placed that you'll be able to just see stuff like this a lot more when most people just walk on by. So one of the best ways I've learned photography, you know I shoot with as, kind of mentioned I shoot for Sony Alpha. So I use their cameras a lot. They're amazing and their super powerful but at the same time, some of the best education I've ever got in photography is just been shooting with my phone. Because even without a camera, you can walk through the world and learn so much about light in the way that interacts with different surfaces and mediums and subjects as we've discussed over the course of this presentation. But to me my phone is like my little sketch book. And as I move into the city, I always have it with me. Most, I would assume, that everyone here has a camera on their phone. That's just kind of ubiquitous now. And as I'm walking through the world, I'm kind of just taking these little visual notes all the time. I actually have a second Instagram account called secret street where I post all this stuff. And I've posted, I think I've posted like pictures now but I can kind of like every time I take my phone out and I take a little picture, I take a little visual note. I have a little record of something that I've learned about light in the world. And the accumulation of doing this over a thousand times like I've learned so much more from just always being conscious of light and walking around than I could ever learn by watching YouTube or anything like that. Just really hands on experience, trial and error is how you're gonna learn the most. So I would just encourage everybody don't for the people in the room and for the people out, on the internet watching, don't let limited access discourage you from starting your journey to learn because you can really learn so much just by looking. And I think that's a great thing that we have access to this technology now. And that technology to share with each other as well. And this is just, I wanted to end on this slide which is one of my favorite. It's naturally lit but there's some artificial Christmas lights in the background. But, I'm gonna end on that note and this is where you can find my stuff and my information and thank you guys for your patience and your listening.

Class Description

For some photographers, capturing images with natural light is an anxiety producing process. Unlike studio lighting, nature doesn’t always cooperate, and you never know when you’ll be met with too many clouds, too much sun, or something in between. Renowned street photographer Dave Krugman will teach you how to deal with a variety of natural lighting situations so you can get optimal results no matter the weather.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Get the most out of whatever light you have.
  • Enhance available light with various techniques.
  • Deal with reflections, shadows, and hard and soft light.

If you’re more comfortable with artificial studio lighting, then this course is a great way to gain the confidence you need to create beautiful, impactful images with natural light. 


Catherine Ferraz

Great class, thankful You give us the time your advice and tips in this creative career.


Dave is low key and very articulate and brings a great understanding of the science of light to his discussion...also like his thoughts about stamping work w/intentionality of the artist.