Posing Subject in Natural Light
We have three different kinda setups here. It's all gonna be kinda diffuse light, 'cause of, y'know, the nature of where we are right now. And I think we're gonna talk a little bit more about directionality and, like, how I would pose somebody in light like this. So without further ado, shall we begin?
Sweet, yeah, I don't think I need that anymore. Okay, let's try it, watch out for this cord. So, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you.
Thanks for helping me out, man. (laughs) Appreciate it. I think we're gonna start; could you sit on this stool? And is this gonna be up?
It should be.
I'll switch it.
Maybe you could start by telling us what camera you're using, lens, so -
Yeah, so today I'm using the Sony Alpha A7RIII, I love this camera. I don't know if anybody here shoots Sony, but it's awesome, honestly, love it. I'm using the 24 to 70 2.8 G Master Lens, 2.8 is great 'cause it's pretty bright, it's not like a 1.8 or 1.4, but it lets in e...
nough light. This camera's also really good in low light and really sensitive to light, so 2.8 on this camera is amazing. One of the reasons I love 24 to is because I really prefer, if I'm, if I'm really doing a major shoot or something like that, or I want these really compelling images, I'm probably gonna be using a prime lens 'cause I really like the look of prime lenses and again, I like being constrained to a certain focal length, it helps, I think it helps draw more creativity out of me. Finding unique solutions, and I'd rather move physically than move with the zoom, but that being said, 24 to 70 is a great range because 24 is pretty wide, and you know, when I'm walking around the streets, like I'll keep this lens on my camera because I can go from shooting a landscape style shot to a 70 millimeter portrait, which is a great length for portraiture, and just with a little twist. So when I'm, when I have just the one lens on me, it's probably gonna be like a versatile lens like the 24 to 70. Okay, so, for these, it's not too dark in here, it's not too bright, um, let's see here. Do we still need this light up here still, for shooting? Sweet, okay, so you can already see the difference that just made. So the artificial light was doing a really nice fill, as it was intended, for our filming, but now you can see that with this light coming off the side that there's way more light hitting his face on this side than there is light hitting his face on this side. And I'm gonna utilize that to our advantage to create, you know, the imagery that I wanna make. So we're gonna start with this kinda half-light, and I'm gonna do some backlight stuff, and then we're gonna do a direct light, or more direct light, or front light. So lemme get my settings here right. So, also a great thing to remember, just in general, with shooting, if you're shooting handheld, there's this kind of, uh, great little cheat, or rule, I guess, not a cheat, but that your shutter speed should be three times your focal length. So if I'm at 24, you know, anything, one-eightieth, is that right? A little bit, a little bit above an eight, one-eightieth of a second is enough to stop the camera from shaking, but if I go to 70, I need to make my shutter speed a little bit faster because the camera moves more. And so like if I'm at 70, it's, you know, 70 times three, that should be my shutter speed, so it's like one two-hundredth. It's not exact, but, that's just a great thing to remember. So if you look at my shutter speed, what I'm doing, right now I'm at a sixtieth and I'm at 70 millimeters, so that's too slow for me, so I'm gonna raise my ISO, and I'm gonna raise my shutter speed to one two-hundredth, get my ISO up again, sweet, okay. So I'm gonna, I'm just gonna take a few test shots here. (camera clicks) Make sure this is all working. Yeah, sweet. So yeah, you can see immediately, this is a pretty standard, straight-up, this looks like a passport photo or something (laughs), you can have it. But as I position the subject, or I move him around, I'm just gonna show you the difference just a little slight adjustment will make. So will you look up, towards there, towards that light? (camera clicks) I might as well just make a bunch. So yeah, so the difference here is, if he's looking up this way, there's more light hitting like the side, this right side of his face, which is kind of a little more obscured, and there's a little more shadow on this side of his face, so what I would actually do in this situation is I'm gonna actually, can you move a little bit with the chair? Yeah, that's perfect. Because I'm gonna move myself in the light, so like now, now will you look up, up here, or like, a little, you can turn your head even more. 'Cause like now I want the light to fall on this side, too. (camera clicks) Nice, yeah. (camera clicks several times) Can you put your hand up a little bit, like, yeah. (camera continues clicking) Sweet. Shooting a little wider. Nice (laughs) you're a natural. Sweet. (camera clicks) Yeah, so I don't know, I actually really like the straight-on look. Can we slide you back over here? So, your question about diffuse light, and like, how to make it a little more interesting. So what I would do, I don't know, can we, is it possible to add contrast?
Here, let's do it on the next one I'm about to take.
Okay. So here, yeah, look directly at me again. Little smile, yeah, sweet. (camera clicks) So yeah, take this one. Yeah, see, like, as you add contrast, you kind of, this sounds sorta stupid, as you add contrast, the contrast increases (audience chuckles) but the difference between the light and the dark becomes more dramatic. Like as you're shooting, understanding what you can do in post-processing as you're shooting can change the way you actually shoot. So for me, I like a lot of contrast, and an image like this, I would rather have that than have him completely lit, because I just think it's more interesting and more dramatic. So why don't we have you, uh, hop up and go, like, right here, and I'm just gonna shoot the direct, most flat, like here, come over here, move a little this way, yeah. And this is going to be like, such a, (camera clicks) Yeah, this is like dream light for a studio. (camera clicks) So you see how much more - can, do you know how to pull them up side by side? Is that possible?
Yeah. With the ones from before?
Yeah. Yeah, so it comes down to your creative intentions and your decisions. Maybe we'll do a, a backlit one to have all three up at once, that'd be really nice. Will you come over this way now? Thanks for your help, by the way. So we, move a little this way, I wanna put you right in the center of this. Yeah, right there, and then turn, so like, when you're shooting backlit, I think it's a little more important to think about your posing because you're really just gonna be working more with shape, 'cause he's gonna become a silhouette. So will you actually turn sideways? Uh, actually yeah, turn that way. And then, actually look completely sideways, and go this, just take an inch back, yeah, right there. So... (camera adjusts and clicks) ... this to me is way more about the shape of the subject as opposed to, you know, having a really well-lit subject. (camera clicks several times) Nice, yeah. Yeah, so like, it's funny to just use one, just interesting, I'm like, kinda learning myself, too, but to use one source of light and just by changing where I am and he is, like, look at how different those shapes and moods are, like they tell completely different things to me. You know, this is a very simple shoot and explanation, but the point I wanna get across is even with just a square room, there's so many different approaches and ways to do it. So I'm gonna, another thing I would love to do, and I love to do with window light, again, thinking about the directionality, like all the light in here is from one source, it's coming this way, so I know that where I put him and where his, what light his eyes are gonna catch is dependent on that directionality of the light. So you come over here a little bit, and, uh, I want, I'm gonna have you, like, I know you can't see anything out of the window, but, like, kinda like, go like you're gazing out of the window or something like that. (camera clicks) Okay. Another way I really like to direct models, too, this is just something I've, I think a lot of people do this but I've just kinda picked it up on my own, too, is I'll be like, hey, can you look at my hand? And then if I move it this way, he knows, like I can just subtly, without even any verbal communication, just make these like, little micro-adjustments that can make the difference between a, you know, a compelling photo and one that's just a little off the mark. So if you look a little more this way, yeah, see, perfect. And then, yeah, will you do one of these? Yeah, exactly, so like, I'm adding another line into the, also his hand's gonna pick up the light, and it's just kind of a little more, adding, again, to make a, a flat picture a little more interesting, you can change the posing, you can change the direction. And, yeah, so now if you look over your shoulder this way, this is when you'll see the difference between a well-lit and, like, a poorly lit photo. I think I would call this, like, this isn't - whoops. I wouldn't say that this is like a poorly lit photo but in terms of, uh, (camera clicks) in terms of positioning your subject, I generally like to have people looking towards the light, not away from the light, so if you see, oh, that's, here, I'll take one where your eyes are open. And a real smile, sweet. So that to me is like, we're missing an opportunity here to use the light, to use the diffuse light and, like, the direction that it's coming from, so let's compare that to, just look back out the window, like this to me is such a more, and if we could put those two next to each other. Yeah, so like, you can see, basically, you know, imagine all these arrows streaming through here, like that's the way the light's coming, and it's kind of glancing off the side of his cheek here, but when we turn him to face the light, it just kinda falls, like, perfectly, evenly across his face, and that to me is like a very simple explanation of directionality of light. But this is, like, this kind of light, is my dream studio light. I have, in my actual, like, studio, I have very clear windows, and now I'm like, hm, maybe I should put something over them, 'cause this is so, it's just really nice. Does anyone have anymore questions?
Some general questions; this one is from Victoria Delgado: what is your go-to lens?
Oh, it's, (laughs) I think I answered it a little bit with the 24 to 70, but I'll repeat. I said if I could only have one lens on me, like, for example, tomorrow, I'm doing a shoot for a tourism board, and, I like to move pretty lightly, like I don't wanna have all this weight on my back, so I'll probably just bring a 24-70, because that'll cover my whole day. But if I have to shoot, if I have more time and I can really put the intention in, I'd probably shoot with a vintage prime lens, like an old Leica lens I love to use, or all the old Nikkor lenses, I'll put an adapter on them and put them on the Sony body, and it's just like this beautiful, a lot of the shots I showed you today were with those kind of vintage combinations, and stuff like that, yeah.
Uh, we have another question from Tessa Chan, as this question came in when we were looking at your images and it had reflections, the person in the window, and she asked, can you explain a bit more about how to combine window-lit portraits with reflections? Is there a method to it, or was that one that you just did, that one was just a happy coincidence?
That one was definitely a happy coincidence, but, um, there there's a couple different ways to kind of do that. It's about, whatever's on the other side of the window, the darker it is, the more reflection you're gonna pick up. If it's white, you're not really gonna get a reflection 'cause the light's coming back through so harshly, I guess? Another good thing is windows, or doors, that move, 'cause as you swing it, the reflection, whatever's in that reflection completely changes, so I've been in situations where I've made images like that, where I am pushing a piece of glass back and forth and trying to find the best angle. So if you can find a glass surface like that, you're really in luck. In the next deck I have, I have some examples of that exact technique. But to me it's, again, the more you try it, and the more you, like, the thing I just said about, you know, having something darker on the other side of the glass, making more of a reflection; I learned that from shooting it a thousand times and then realizing, oh, like if I move it this way, I'm losing the reflection, and if I move it this way, it's more stronger, why is that? Oh, because over here, this is like, there's a wood wall that's brown, and over here is like a yellow plastic thing, and that's reflecting more light back through and it's coming through the reflection. So just understanding layering and lighting, it's really interesting, it's almost like studying another language or something that can't be translated, really, it's cool.
Alright, the Internet is alive with questions. Okay, this one is from Lawrence Gordon and, I'm not sure if you said this earlier, but are you shooting at a set ISO or on some auto-range of ISO? So when you're out on the streets, natural light, how do you approach ISO?
I use a ton of different techniques. I think that, when I'm doing street photography and I'm on the move, I'm shooting generally on shutter priority because I like to control movement in that way, so I like to be able to swing down to one-thirtieth of a second and pan, you know, with a car, something like that, and then, also, like, I know that, if I'm moving through the streets really quickly and everything's happening really fast, I wanna be at like, a five-hundredth of a second, so that everything like, kinda freezes. I like shooting in the rain a lot, and being able to switch your shutter speed in the rain is really great, so if I shoot at one-one thousandth of a second in the rain, you get every little drop, and I'll show you guys some examples of that later. If I'm shooting at one-thirtieth in the rain, you get streaks, 'cause it's, you know, the time that the drop moves from point A to point B, so like, I really like, for shooting photography, I like shooting shutter priority. Auto ISO is actually really helpful for shooting in manual mode, but I would definitely put a cap on your auto ISO, which you can do with most cameras, so you can say, like, auto ISO, but don't exceed ISO 2000. And that way, you're not like, oh, I shot that on ISO 160 000, just looks like a photocopy or something like that. But it's great, because you can basically do any combination of shutter speed and aperture, and, like, your camera will make up for the difference with a ISO, so it's kinda, it's a good technique, too. But I think most of the time I'm shooting just manual. And just, using ISO as one of the three, kind of, levers, in making my work.
Cool; any more questions in the studio audience? We've got one, great, and if you can stand, please, that would be great.
[Female Audience Member] Okay, so, when you're shooting the, when you're prioritizing shadow, like with the man with the cigar, and he's backlit, are you bringing up his face at all in post, or are you just...?
So I don't exactly remember what I did for that particular frame, but I will say, that looked, to my eye, like it was pretty, just, I didn't pull the shadows up, 'cause I think if I did, you'd see a lot more of him. I don't know, that shot to me was like, I left, I intentionally left it with the shadow 'cause it was like a very kinda, the good, the bad, and the ugly kinda shot, like, kind of like this Clint Eastwood cowboy kinda vibe. And keeping that shadow on his face, like keeping him in the shadow, adds this layer. Again, we're communicating things, right? So keeping the shadow on his face kinda adds an element of mystery. I was like, who is this guy, or you know, what's going on in this frame? As your eye kind of absorbs that into the shadows and looks deeper and deeper, you get to tell that story in your head. That's really one of the reasons I absolutely, I'm sure you can tell I love photography, but I love photography because, I think, it is a visual language, and all languages are really visual, even if, when you read, if you read, like, written words, like, it's just, you're just picking up chunks of symbols, it's like if you mixed up all the letters in between the first and the last letter you could still read it, I don't know if you guys ever tried that, it's crazy, but I love that fact in psychology because what it means is we're really just reading little pictures. And what I love about photography is it is this visual language and it's so, what's so compelling about that to me is that it's universal, right? So if I follow a Japanese photographer who doesn't speak a word of English but I look at their photos every day for five years, which I, that's actually happened through Instagram, I'm seeing through their eyes and I'm learning about the world that they live in and the way that they see the world without ever even having to communicate with language. So, visual language. So, I love the universe, the universal aspect of visual communication, I think it's really fascinating. And like, when we study light, and we start to add all these elements and layers, and like the deeper and deeper you go, like that's you approaching fluency in a new language. And I think that's really cool. But I also think that you never actually, there's no end, like, you don't get to a point where you're like, oh, I got it now, I'm fluent. It's like, even the most masterful photographers ever, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier Bresson, like, they were learning up until, you know, their last day. And I think they'd say the same thing, which is really cool, yeah.
Alright, we have a question from Sebastian Valdez, who is tuning in from Mexico. And he says, I wanna know if David uses something to reproduce those particles in the air. So earlier you showed us some images where there were particles in the air, and then you had one that was smoke, but are there other things you can do to create that look?
Yeah, so I think there's some photo products that people have, like there's little smoke bombs and stuff like that, obviously, look into what's legal in your area. Those, the pictures of the girls with the beams coming over them, that was just somebody's, like, nicotine vaporizer, like a JUUL, so you know, just using what was in the room. I don't particularly, like, I don't carry anything with me to put particulate in the air. The example I used from the concert, obviously, at concerts, they blow smoke machines, but you can, I think you can even get, like a mister or a smoke machine, you could even use a spray thing of water, like just make a little cloud of mist, and if you're quick enough you're gonna see that stuff in the air. Anything that's in the air, like the reason that putting particulate in the air shows you the light is because now the light is getting redirected towards your eye, 'cause it hits a little, you know, whether it's rain or snow or fog, that particulate in the air is redirecting light towards your eye and that's why you can see it. And so, just like, I, really, like, I'm starting to read all these physics books about light because I really am so fascinated by, the way that different, just the way that light works, I mean, that's what we're studying, right? And, like, photography is the act of recording that moment but the act of the craft, I think, is understanding. The more you can understand about the physics of what's happening, the more you can make those leaps in your mind to preconceived shots. I think that's really interesting. Like even knowing that, like have any of you ever taken someone's portrait in, like, the woods where it's really green? And just seen on their skin, like, it's a little green? So yeah, because that light is hitting all the leaves and picking up a little bit of that wavelength, that green wavelength, and then just hitting them again? So understanding, okay, well maybe if we move out of the woods a little we're not gonna get that green cast on their skin, and using every little bit that you've learned and kinda stacking it in all these layers, you'll have such a deep toolbox of photographic techniques to use. And yeah, just understanding, one of my favorite things to do is shooting into mirrors and stuff, like, some mirrors have bevels on the side, like, where it's a little, I think you guys know what a bevel is, but it's like, just the angle, it shifts a little bit, and then there's another reflection in that, and, like, if you go on the edge of that, you'll get, like, a double image of somebody, it's like overlapped, like a double exposure of themselves and it's really interesting. So yeah, just, like, con - , but if you don't think about light as this physical entity, like, I don't know that you make those little observations, you don't know where to look or you don't even know to look for that stuff, so, just be, I think, you know, with any art, your curiosity is your best tool. Like, be curious and try to, just layer and layer and layer, and get deeper and deeper and deeper. I think it's really cool.
So a question had come in. You talked about having a natural light studio that you have in New York.
Yep. Of course, we have this light here. Is there a particular direction of light that, north-facing light, south-facing light, that you know of that is better if you're setting up a studio?
I think north light is better.
This is from Philip, yep.
Generally to move, I wouldn't claim to be an authority on that particular subject, like, when I got my apartment, I just wanted windows. (audience laughs) I basically saw something like this and I was like, yeah, this'll do. (audience laughs) I also went up to the roof and I was like, yes, 'cause all those cityscapes I showed you with the clouds, they're all shot from my roof. Any, in terms of, like, a natural light studio, I'm sure there's a best angle, in terms of directionality of a compass, but for my work and for my, uh, for what I need to do, I think that I just wanted a one-direction light coming in. Like, I like that my apartment doesn't have, like, lights, er, windows on two walls, because, like, if I have one direction, it's a lot easier to work with and manipulate, as opposed to, well, a little light's coming in from this side, and then we have a little light coming in from here, and, I'd rather just have one light and if I need to redirect anything I'll use mirrors or reflectors or, you know, a white sheet or, really, anything. I think it just goes back to my nature as a street photographer, like, I just like being scrappy and I don't like having a lot of equipment, and I just like moving lightly through the world and looking around. And I think that kinda translates into my studio space too: it's just, like, wooden floor, white wall, optional sceneless, and, like, huge windows, and then just working with that. And a few of those pictures were taken in that studio with just that light. Actually, I have blackout curtains, too, so if I really want to control the light I do have that option, yeah. Any others?
Yeah, question from Pak Young, who said, so you mentioned that you use some older prime Leica lenses and the question is: do you use manual focus lenses and any hints for using them?
Yeah, this is -
So your approach with that, and natural light, and when you're using the Sony plus these older lenses.
Yeah, so, that's a great question, and one I love to talk about. Lenses, again, like, a lens is a medium that light is coming through, so, what that means is that whatever lens you use is gonna have a huge impact on the image you're making. What I like about vintage lenses is they're more rare and the combination of whatever vintage lens you use and the camera you're using is, like, already more unique than somebody who just went out and bought all the newest stuff. So, like, if I go out and I get the Sony A7RIII and the 24 to 70, and I take, like, that's gonna have the same exact look as the next person who bought, you know, depending on what we're shooting. If we're shooting the same subject, it's gonna look the same. But if I got, if I buy some weird old Russian lens and I get an adaptor and put it on that camera, the type of glass they use to make it, the type of construction inside the lens, the life of that lens and who's had it and shot with it and what environments it's been in, that all changes what I would call like the lens signature. So, like, the lens signature is basically a specific look that comes from a specific lens. So everything that comes off of an assembly line today, like a brand-new modern lens, they have the same signature as the next lens that's coming off, but lenses that have been around for forty, fifty years, passing through people's hands and coming from different parts of the world, like those have unique signatures that you can kind of, you know, experiment with different lenses, and find which looks you like, and then you have your own personal little, um, artillery, (laughs) is that the right word? So that being said, that's why I like vintage lenses, I think it's really interesting, and what I think is so great, especially with the Sony equipment, and I can't really speak to using vintage lenses on any other system because I haven't, but what's great about the Sony system is, first of all, the A7RIII, for example, is extremely sensitive in low light, so you can use all sorts of lenses and you have a lot of room with your lighting. The other thing is that, it has a thing called focus peaking, and what focus peak - are you guys familiar with focus peaking? So what focus peaking is basically is when you switch to manual mode, the way it works is that the computer in the camera determines what areas have the quickest, um, uh, divisions of contrast, so if you think about, if you're focusing on someone's eye and they have blue eyes and black pupils, like that, the fall-off between black and blue, the sharper that fall-off gets, the more the camera highlights it, and it will highlight it in whatever color you choose. So I do red, 'cause red's, you don't find people with red eyes or anything like that, usually, shooting vampires, but, so, the brilliance of that is you can take these old vintage lenses, and, like, I have a lens that's F 1.0, so to focus that lens, it's like a millimeter of depth of field, like it's crazy. The last shot, or whatever, the last shot I put up where I was like, I just included this one, it had the Christmas lights behind her, this sort of beautiful kind of fall-off, that's shot at F1, and you don't, it's really, my point being, that without focus peaking, like, it's really hard to get that shot, but because I'm using this old manual piece of, it's literally just glass and metal, attached to this futuristic, like, augmented reality camera, like that's the only way I can make those shots, is using the old equipment on the new body. Like, even if I'm just shooting like that, that's a Leica M lens, if I'm shooting that Leica M lens on a Leica M film camera, I'm just not gonna be able to, I'm not even gonna get close to the accuracy. So, you know, it's a really cool way to Frankenstein together these interesting contraptions, and, um, it's cool. I'm sure a lot of you guys in here have driven stick. That's kinda the same sensation I get, like when I'm shooting with manual glass, I feel way more connected to the process, 'cause I'm actually moving the aperture ring, I'm actually moving the focus ring; it's kinda like driving stick in a car, where you feel, like, way more connected to the process of the car, as opposed to just putting it in drive and just zoning out. So I really encourage people to experiment with vintage lenses. I'll say that if you do want to get into that, get a mirrorless camera, I mean, I think the Sony A is one of the best deals out there right now, honestly. And then, the lens, the Nikkor 55 1.2, you can get on eBay, I think it's like 300 bucks, which is like, for what you get, 51.2, it's like, you can make the most incredible images with that, so, if anyone wants to get into that, the Nikkor 1.2 55 millimeter, from, like the, it's like an eighties or nineties lens, I'm not sure, but it's really great, and relatively affordable. I know a few hundred dollars is a lot of money, but compared to, you know, a $3000 brand new lens, it's like a great deal, and it's really fun, really fun.
Awesome. Well thank you so much, Dave. I'm wondering if you can give folks any final, final words of wisdom, go forth and conquer when using natural light?
Yeah, yeah, so, again, I love natural light, I think it's great, it's always there, generally, unless it's nighttime. But, just more generally, I just wanna encourage people out there. A creative career and a creative path might look like it's a, you know, a long shot or impossible or something like that, but I really think there's never been a better time to be a creative person. Basically, the way that a lot of creative people survive and make money is by working with brands that require imagery for advertising. That's how I make my living, I'm a commercial photographer. And there's never been a higher demand for visual content because of social media, because we all have Inter - we all have infinitely refreshing screens in our pockets, most of us, at all times, and there's more screens in the world than ever before, and all those spaces are hungry for visual content. And, so if you're a young creative, or you know, just young and in a creative career, or you're trying to break into the industry, like I really would encourage you to lean in. There's room for you, and I think that, just find people that are willing to share their knowledge, and find a community of people that will push you and, I just, would encourage, anybody with any leaning towards a creative career to dive in, as much as they can. It's really great, it's a great life to lead.