Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 15

Thread: tips for low natural light portraiture

  1. #1

    tips for low natural light portraiture

    i have been working in low light, say 1 sec @ f16 making portraits, ok i can save a stop by using 400 asa but even at half a second it's a hit and miss affair when you get a 10x lupe out and look at the neg...

    any tips would be gratefully received.


  2. #2

    Join Date
    May 2006
    Westminster, MD

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    1/2 to 1 sec is a long time to ask a person to stay still! It can be done, but . . ..

    Keeping the person small in the frame helps, just as you are doing.

    I think it's more about coaching the subject that they need to stay still however which way they can.

    I usually never go below 1/30 with people.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    Shoot 4x5 at f/5.6 and love the bokeh

    Shoot 6x9 at f/5.6 and enjoy a little DOF.

    But much beyond f/8 requires lighting...

    Bounce a 500-watt tungsten off the corner of the walls and ceiling just to get more light bouncing around, nothing too overtly directional but you can gain 2-3 stops.

    It depends on the person, but there is a trade-off between f/stop and the minium shutter speed to capture them crisply (duh, obvious). But some situations allow you to shoot them at 1/8th, othertimes you need 1/30th, and for fidgetty action you need even faster...

    David Goldfarb's trick of using a measuring string to check focus on short DOF portraits works nicely. I use a wooden folding ruler and poke people with it myself.

  4. #4
    Ted Harris's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    New Hampshire

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    It's also about increasingthe light as much as possible ... every little bit helps. Use reflectors to bounce the available light,etc. I will use strobes when indoors unless zI really have lots and lots of available light and I do a lot of checking with an incident meter.

  5. #5

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    Check out

    He shoots mainly with a Crown Graphic and old 135mm lens. Under Portfolio, click on People, then the fifth (5) thumbnail should be a shot of a guy playing guitar. Since I went to a seminar given by Dana Neibert recently, this was one of the shots he explained. The exposure was ten (10) seconds on this shot, and the guitars were chosen and arranged that way. While he does do quite a bit of post processing, none was needed on this shot for Cingular.

    It would seem that some people would do better than others at slow shutter speeds. Sitting should be easier than standing. You might also try having the person lean against something. Too bad Bogen don't make a neck clamp, like they had 100 years ago.

    You can also carefully use a two light set-up that can still give the appearance of natural light. Keep the shutter speed long to record ambiently lit aspects of the seen. A short pop at low flash to ambient ratios can freeze motion and still allow an available light look.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
    Last edited by Gordon Moat; 9-Feb-2007 at 14:21. Reason: grammar

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Pasadena, CA

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    Huge part of it - interaction with the subject!

    People are remarkably good at holding still when the "magician's patter" goes right. While I'm setting up, I chat with my subjects and explain to them how it goes, what I'm doing. Also, I set the mood for it, and get them to practice during the patter a few times. I also do a dummy shot or two first, to excercise my shutter (and ensure that I closed the shutter first!). After a couple of frames, they remember when the dark slide comes out, and we go for it. It works at least 8/10 times for me at speeds of down to about 1/4 second. Longer times require the subject to lay back on something, or lean on it for sharpness, and occasionally I like the look of a bit of movement if its the right part moving. Eyes are best if really sharp, that's for sure. Frankly, I'm usually amazed by what people will do if they are in the right mood for it. I shoot way more frames than I need in case "the dog eats my film", yet somehow, even shots that I thought were not going to work, worked.

    I have also tried telling the subject to "freeze" or "hold it right there!" when they are relaxed, chatting with me, and getting into a mood. While one might expect a rigid looking photo from doing this, it is surprising how well people can do it and "play along". Sometimes, I go really far and tell them about it being an old-time photo - remember how they had their head in a clamp? Maybe they get worried about me actually digging out such a contraption, but hey - they do it, and do it well. We're talking non-model, ordinary people here at that.

    Also, 8x10 Polaroid is fast stuff - really 800! That can help. And as said, reflectors can really do the trick too. But once the reflector is out, a little cheating with a flash is just as possible...

    For 8x10 portraits, including more of the surrounding and not trying for a 35mm tight shot can both take advantage of the format, but allow 3/4 and full shots in so many poses - wider aperatures can be used.

    And when all limits are brick walls, I prefer to at least have good expressive eyes at work with good sharpness in them and perhaps at least one plane of the face, so movements on the camera do help in portrature.

    People do like the natural light stuff better than intense strobes. I've had some people complain about the feeling of heat on their face when blitzed with a pair of 4800 Speedotrons at full power for an F64 closeup. In that case, I *wanted* hard, stark light. They put up with it, and the shots came out with dazzling color and embarrasing, medical clarity...

  7. #7

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    thanks to date... well... the light i've got means 8th of a second max, and although i'd love to take a studio along, however small, it's not on. i'll try a few shots wide open this weekend but it looks like either way i'm gonna have to do relaxation therapy with people, i don't think the neck brace would go down to well either!

  8. #8

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    You could always take along a Bogen Super Clamp, and tell your subject that if they cannot hold still enough that you can use it on them.

    I did some shots of a female stand-up bass player about a month ago. This was done with a 1/8 second shutter. There was a little room light, and I set-up two reflectors and two small battery strobes, one synced and the other on slave. Each strobe bounced into each reflector, with light coming in on the left and right of the subject. Result: no movement, sharp images, nearly no shadow to give a natural look to the light. It can help if the room is white, since you can use the walls as reflectors too.

    The entire set-up was pre-focused on the assistant. Then the model was instructed to stay within a set distance to the camera. I also told her that the shutter was one second, and not to move after the flash pop; figuring that she could hold still without any trouble for at least that long. Wish I had something scanned to share with you, though I think 1/8 second shutter and small battery strobes is fine.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio

  9. #9
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    Julia Margaret Cameron thought a good child was one who could hold still for a count of 300. Here's Melchi holding still for 1 sec at f:8 with a soft lens--

    The measuring string does work for short DOF portraits. Run it from the tripod leg to the tip of the nose, and you can double check after you've inserted the filmholder and pulled the slide. This is f:5.6 or maybe wider with a 36cm Heliar on 8x10"--four shots with this technique, and every one has the eyes in focus--

    When the exposures are long, I shoot more film. There's bound to be a good one in there somewhere.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Asheville, NC

    Re: tips for low natural light portraiture

    Shooting Wet Plate Collodion means long exposures. Mostly I talk to my sitters which many times is my family letting them know what exposures are going to be based on the lighting conditions for the day and how the collodion is acting that day. And yes it definitely acts different on different days. Don't ask why because I don't know. All in all I try to get the sitters to enjoy the experience enough to become a part of it. I don't have any lights so this has to be it! Here are several examples of the wet plate work. Two of my wife and one of my daughter. The first picture of Counti my daughter was done wide open at 6.3 and the exposure was 3 seconds. She was so proud she could sit still for as long as I needed her to--at least on this one! The second one of my wife Terri was done wide open at 6.3 for 2 seconds. And the last one of my wife was done in darker open shade wide open at f4 for 9 seconds. I am also shooting open shade 20 x 24 head and shoulder shots. The bellows extension is outrageous so those are long exposures too. Some are turning out well and some aren't! All fun though.

    Good luck and continued success. Your work sure is very good.


Similar Threads

  1. UV light source thoughts
    By Mark_3632 in forum Business
    Replies: 23
    Last Post: 22-Aug-2012, 16:54
  2. Replies: 82
    Last Post: 8-Dec-2005, 07:31
  3. Light meters sensitive to IR light!
    By bglick in forum Gear
    Replies: 26
    Last Post: 15-Nov-2005, 19:59
  4. Flare? or Light Leak?
    By jon walker in forum Cameras & Camera Accessories
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: 13-Feb-2004, 08:57
  5. cold light versus vc cold light
    By Kevin Blasi in forum Darkroom: Equipment
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: 30-Jul-2001, 10:36


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts