Using the "Subtractive Lighting" Technique for Outdoor Portraits

by steven schwartzLeave a Comment

What happens when you're ready to shoot and “available light” means you've got way too much light? Nobody looks their best with harsh under-eye shadows (the dreaded “raccoon” look) or when your talent is squinting from a reflector blasting photons into their watery eyes. This article from Crew of One proposes that removing (subtracting) light is the way to tame the midday sun, or enable you to shoot during those hours when most shooters are waiting for “golden hour”.

Subtractive Lighting

Most people use one of two standard responses to difficult outdoor lighting situations: either they use a reflector to bounce light where they want it, or they use a portable strobe to add light. The common denominator is, of course, ADDING light. If you’re working outside on a bright day, that’s a lot of light. It’ll probably make your subject squint, and feel uncomfortable, and it also probably won’t even look that good.

I prefer a different approach. Instead of ADDING light, I SUBTRACT light. This approach works equally well for either video or photography.

Take a look at this example. I was filming student testimonials for a college promotional video. This particular testimonial was scheduled for around 1 p.m. The sun was almost directly overhead. Look at the way the student’s forehead, nose, and hair are glowing, while here eyes and lower face are in shadow. If you’ve done much shooting outside, you’ll be familiar with this look.

Subtractive Lighting Example 1


Rather than try to “bounce light in from underneath,” which never works the way it’s supposed to, I simply set up a 60″ umbrella on a stand, to cast shade over her. This way, she’s not being DIRECTLY illuminated by the light bearing directly down on her, but INDIRECTLY illuminated by the light bouncing off the environment around her. As you can see, the lighting still looks very natural, but it’s much more flattering, and it even brings the tones of her hair and skin into the same range as the background, giving me a shot with plenty of detail and no blown-out highlights or gloomy shadows.

See the changes suggested by Alex above and much more – read the whole thing at Crew of One

 Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before 
[ Via Crew of One ]

Let others know your tips and tricks for taming bright sunlight by clicking on the Forum link below.

(cover photo credit: snap from Crew of One)

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