Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro lens, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 200, finished in Lighroom 5

Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro lens, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 200, finished in Lighroom 5

I made this portrait at Pacific City on the Oregon coast the other day. It’s a wonderful place to shoot, and the cliffs at the northern edge helped me control the direction of light on this little family.

Almost everybody looks better with light coming across the face from the side, so that one side of the face is brighter than the other. If you look closely, you’ll see that the light is brighter on the right side of this picture (the people’s left). I usually set my camera to black and white to help me see where the shadows fall; since I’m shooting in RAW, my picture will be in color on the computer.

Set your camera to Monochrome to help you see the shadows more easily.

Set your camera to Monochrome to help you see the shadows more easily.

It was late afternoon, so the sun was low in the sky, and there were clouds diffusing the light so it’s very soft. If I only wanted soft light across their faces, I’d be all set. However, including a catch light in the eyes helps people look alive in a portrait. So, we moved close to the cliff, which acted as a flag to block the light from that side of the horizon, making that side of their faces a little bit darker.

This is where the picture was made, the subjects facing out to see.

This is where the picture was made, the subjects facing out to sea.

If you’ve got a beach with a cliff on one side, you’re all set. For the rest of us, we can find similar light situations anywhere there is a distinctly brighter light to one side, and the more horizontal that light is, the better. Here are some likely places:

  • Large window
  • Open garage door
  • Porch
  • Covered walkway
  • Gazebo
  • Under an umbrella

Pay attention as you go about your day, and I bet you’ll find lots of similar places to utilize natural light with direction for your portraits.

Disclaimer: This is just one way to work with the light.


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Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Very interesting and valuable article. Thumbs up.


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About Levi Sim

Passion drives Levi to make photographs, teach, and help new friends. He tells people he's a photographer, but he really does more than just make pictures. His professional photography is primarily commercial work for businesses, both small and large, and he really helps show how great it'd be to work with those companies. He excels at photographing people, from two-year-olds to oil field workers to couples married for 60 years, everyone has a good time making pictures with Levi. Besides people and businesses, Levi enjoys all other aspects of photography, and practices landscapes and still life, as well. Other people enjoy photographing everything, and Levi wants to be able to help, so he practices as much as he can to be ready to help. He also runs a local photography club, is a Rotarian, actively helps at church, is a husband, and poppa to a peppy four-year-old girl. Levi writes regularly for Photofocus.com and is co-author of books on Adobe Lightroom.


Photography, Portrait, Shooting, Technique & Tutorials