People often tell me that shooting in overcast conditions is best for portraits. In many ways this is true. Yes, we get ‘flattering’ soft light, as the sky acts as a giant soft box, removing the directional and harsh ‘spotlight’ of the sun. The sun’s direct light creates harsh shadow, amplifies skin texture / imperfections and often creates way too much contrast, for a digital camera to capture nicely. So on cloudy days, we get beautiful soft omnidirectional light for our portraits, what could possibly be the issue? Well, impact is the thing you can lose in this situation. Soft light for portraits, leaves us with low contrast backgrounds as well. Your subject will also not ‘pop’ out of the background, leaving you with a potentially dull and lifeless image. So in this situation as a Melbourne photographer, what can I do?
More often than not, photographers use the sun to shoot subjects rimmed by this light, so shooting with the sun behind the subject, exposing for the shadow – not the light. This gives us the lovely soft light and skin tones, similar to shooting a portrait under a cloudy sky, but adds the impact of contrast, delineating the subject from the background in a rim of sizzling light. Well, that’s where carrying an extra off camera flash can really come in handy. Placing a flash head somewhere to the rear of the subject can replicate the job sun does for you and put some ‘pop’ back into your images. It often helps your portraits to front light your subjects with reflected light, lifted high and pointing down from 10 or 2 o’clock. This reflected light will help reduce skin detail, easily accomplished with a reflective umbrella, soft box or beauty dish – the latter which I use on every shoot. The rear flash can act directly, bringing out fine detail as the light brushes past the subject.
In upcoming articles I will cover inexpensive, yet effective light modifiers to help you shoot in all types of lighting conditions.