Tips + Techniques

How to Create Great Light for Your Portrait Shoot

February 8, 2018

By Susan Stripling

All Photos © Susan Stripling

In A Ray Of Sun

Learning how to develop my eye for light has been the most crucial part of developing my own personal style as a wedding photographer. While I love working with continuous lights, strobes and speed lights, I have a great fondness for amazing natural lighting.

At this wedding on Long Island, there was a brief period of time when the sun hit the windows in the venue’s foyer and cast a huge beam of light on the stairs. I positioned my subject in that beam of light and made sure that her pose would aid the light in skimming across her face, shoulders and arms, and illuminate her dress perfectly.

I also made sure that the rest of the lights in the space were dimmed down as much as possible and that the huge doors behind me were closed, keeping additional natural light from flooding the space.

When working with natural light that’s bright, you have to be very careful to expose properly for your scene. I exposed for the highlights on the bride’s face, which resulted in a perfect exposure on her and a deep, dramatic exposure for the rest of the room.

Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: 24mm
Exposure: f/4 at 1/250
Exposure compensation: -4.3
ISO: 100
Lighting: Natural

On A Dark Night

I made this image while teaching a workshop for The Wedding School, an online educational resource that I run for wedding photographers. I was showing the class how I light nighttime portraits and how incredibly easy it is to set your subjects apart from the background if the light is positioned correctly. I used a Stella Pro 5000 continuous light, held off camera right and slightly behind the subjects from a distance of about 10 feet (which is why the assistant holding the light is not seen on camera). The barn door accessories for this light really help you narrow the beam to hit your subject precisely. When creating this type of light, whether with video light or flash, I often see photographers place the light directly behind the couple, aimed upward. When you do this, you illuminate inside or under their noses and create an almost horror movie, fright light situation. Hold it high and aim it down from a distance and it will more accurately mimic a street light or building light, which looks less artificial.

Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: 70mm
Exposure: f/4 at 1/800
Exposure compensation: -2.0
ISO: 640
Lighting: Stella Pro 5000

On A Rainy Day

Every couple dreams of rain on their wedding day, don’t they? I always feel so bad for couples when they plan for outdoor portraits and the weather puts a halt to those plans. At this marvelous Indian wedding, going outside, even under an umbrella, wasn’t really an option on this wet and rainy afternoon. As wedding photographers, we still have to make amazing portraits in any situation, so it was time to adapt.

The vendors were loading decor into the hotel ballroom, which had an open loading dock to the parking lot outside. I positioned my clients just inside the loading dock and safely out of the path of the rain. I sent my assistant with an umbrella into the parking lot outside, armed with our beloved Profoto B1 on full power. Aiming the bare bulb straight at the couple let me mimic the look of backlight from the sun on a rainy day. I love how the light separates the couple from the background while also picking up the rain drops in a really dramatic way.

Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: 200mm
Exposure: f/4 at 1/200
Exposure compensation: 0.0
Lighting: Profoto B1

Susan Stripling is a Brooklyn-based wedding photographer and Triple Master of WPPI who co-founded The Wedding School, a wedding photography education source for shooters worldwide.

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