Environmental Portraiture by Catherine Povaschuk - part 1 of 1 2

Published 01/04/2004


Nice day for a Light Wedding!

LIGHTING I S PROBABLY THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF WORKING outside of the studio. I like to think in terms of a main light and a fill light. You have to find your light outdoors.

WeddingThe main light us usually the available light from the sun. Of course, mid day the sun is overhead, which is really poor placement for a main light, but at sunset, the main light is right where it should be. The open sky creates a nice hair light and fill for you, making sunset the best time of day for outdoor portraits. Sunrise works equally well. I usually meet by subjects around an hour before sunset, and take photos for that hour, and after sunset until it is too dark. Sunset is a long period of time here, but as you are somewhat south of us, you may a have to adjust your times. The further south you go, the shorter your sunset/sunrise times are. In Hawaii, it is about fifteen minutes from nice light to total darkness! We have a full two hours of sunset light here in central Alberta.

While sunset may be the best time of the day, we know that weddings just don't happen at the appropriate hour for photographers. That brings us to outdoor wedding portraits - you have to love them. We have people dressed in the most formal clothing they are ever likely to wear, out in an informal environment. Add to that the mid day sun, and the probability that there will be many wedding parties in the same general area, and you are challenged to create images of the most important day of a young couple's life. No fear!

The mid day sun is the greatest challenge. Light from straight overhead is just not attractive. Covered porches and heavily foliaged overhanging trees will block overhead light, bringing in soft, directional light. Images one & two illustrate this. Both are taken mid afternoon in the hot prairie summer, sun high overhead. Image one is in an east facing covered porch at a local government building and image two is just a few steps away in the park in front of the building. Image two is shaded overhead by a tree, and luckily we had intermittent light cloud cover which we used to soften the background. There were lots of people around, and we just made sure that they were not in our background. You can often send a member of the wedding party to kindly ask people to move. I find that most are happy .

Catherine Povaschuk Plan ahead

In images one and two, the light appears to be directional, because it is. In the porch, a roof blocks 100% of the overhead light, and the light is coming in from the shaded side of the building. This is the type of light that we create in the studio with a soft box. The source is a large area of soft light coming in at an angle just slightly above eye level. Under the tree, the overhead light is again blocked, bringing in light from the front. Check your outdoor areas out for good lighting a day or two before the wedding if you have not been to that particular location before. On the wedding day, you do not have time to fiddle around looking for light.

Every cloud...

Cloudy days are easiest, unless of course, it rains. In image three, we used the cloudy sky as a giant soft box.

We were in front of a fountain at city hall, and used a shutter speed of 1/30 second to blur the water in the background. By having the bride turn her face up, the light is falling beautifully on her. You can also achieve this by using a high camera angle and sitting your subject(s) down. When they look up at you, the light will be just right. You will need to take along a ladder or footstool so that you can always be a good deal taller than your subjects. Take along a drop cloth to keep your customer's clothing clean, and make sure that you hide it underneath them thoroughly.


There goes the bride!

If you are off to the reception after the wedding and you have an attractive environment there, take your couple out for a few quick portraits at sunset. Have your location picked out and your camera ready to go so that you do not take more than five minutes or so of their time. Image four is from a wedding where the reception was held several kilometers out of the city, at a country golf course. The setting they are in was just steps from the reception hall, so took only a few minutes of their time to create a beautiful memory.


Reflectors are necessary tools for outdoor portraits. I much prefer them to fill flash, as I find that I have much more control of the light. They can be used to fill in shadows and create catch lights in the eyes. In image five, the wedding party is in the shade of an east facing building in mid afternoon, with lots of sky light overhead. Normally they would have dull eyes and downward shadows on their faces. A reflector in front and just under them is filling upwards to take out the shadows and give bright eyes. Reflectors can also be used as gobos to block unwanted light from overhead.

My husband, Bob, is my assistant and is there with a reflector all of the time. We use 'Photoflex Lite Discs' collapsible reflectors, and have found them to be extremely durable along with being light, easy to carry, and compact. We have white/silver, white/gold, and a large translucent. White works well in the daytime when the light is fairly bright, and the silver works well in low light to maximize reflection. We use the translucent to turn harsh light into a soft box by holding the translucent very close to the subject, which works well with tight, head and shoulder shots. We occasionally use the gold to light hair from behind, but I find the colour is sometimes a bit too harsh. There is a newer 'soft gold' that I expect is better. Other companies also make collapsible reflectors.

The Great Outdoors

OFCOURSE, IN ADDITIONTO WEDDINGS , WE ALSOHAVE FAMILY and couple portraiture outdoors. Usually there is more control over the time of day with these sessions, and evening, around sunset is best. The light is soft and directional. You can backlight you subject, and then bring a reflector in front and use it as the main light. Just after sunset, you can have your subject face the western sky, as it will become a warm coloured light source. Most of all, your lighting is even over the entire scene, giving you many more choices. If you can, get your customers out at the end of the day.Wedding

As with studio portraiture, it is important to talk to your customer about clothing and style. How they plan to dress will help you to determine where to meet them. A business suit does not work in a rustic scene and blue jeans look wrong with formal pillars and elegant architecture. Get from your customer what style they have in mind, and then give them guidance as to how to coordinate themselves so that they will be the center of interest in the portrait.

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1st Published 01/04/2004
last update 21/07/2022 10:39:11

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