THROWBACK SATURDAY! HOW TO TUESDAY #5 – Photographing in Natural Light versus Strobes when photographing families and kids

Here’s a throwback to How To Tuesday #5 where I explain when to use natural light for portraits and when/how to add strobes. I will be teaching these techniques and MORE in my upcoming workshop “Art of the Photographic Portrait” August 20th in New Orleans – space is filling fast! Sign up Now! CLICK HERE!

Now I will be honest. I don’t market myself as a family and kid photographer in New Orleans not because I “hate shooting kids uyhhhhhhgggh” – no, that’s not me. I make myself available to photograph families and kids, and I also photograph weddings too. I just don’t market myself as a wedding or family photographer. It’s not you, it’s me.

It’s not kitchen, it’s the cook! Why light matters more than a camera when doing natural light portraits.

I have seen the trends over the last 15 years evolve so much. Owning a high res digital camera has become so commonplace that there are “photographers” cropping up every day with their own blog, website, and business plan, but have no real grasp on the many other ways to light a portrait other than available light. This is good and bad. For one, you can become an expert at one type of lighting scheme and do really well at it. But secondly, when presented with a light change or problem, you are stuck. This can also hamper your creative impulses when having to pigeonhole your execution to one type of light.

This rapid influx of a very similar type of portrait style has taken over the market so much that clients want this particular feel for everything. Blown out sky’s, washed out backgrounds, all to get the skin tones nice and even – but what is that worth? There is a time and place for natural light and strobeless photography but knowing when to use it and when not to use it can be a key component in any photographers tool bag. 


I think when doing a portrait outdoors and your background is darker then your subjects skin…it’s GOOD TO USE NATURAL LIGHT

 Thanks to my sister-in-law

This technique will keep your highlights away from your corners and drive the viewers eyes to your subject. Shooting a shallow depth of field will allow you to blur out any details that may take away from your subject. Photographing kids outdoors using only natural light will allow you to set your focus on the tracking feature and high frame rate so you never miss a moment.

When do I use strobes and natural light?

I love finding unique places in our community to bring my subjects. You will find treasures in the Louisiana landscape in any parish, you just have to look. I like to scout first with my portrait lens to frame up some sample compositions. In order to get an accurate representation of what I am going to get when I put people in it, I focus in the foreground and NOT on my whole scene so I can see what the blurred background will be like. 

When photographing a portrait and including the environment, you are often left with your subject squinting a bit. One easy answer to this is to diffuse the sun with a large diffusion disc (or a 5 in 1 w/ the wrapper/reflectors taken off)

The diffuser will block the sun and then you can use your strobe to light the subject. All you need to do is first is to set your exposure for the AESTHETIC you want for the shot and make sure your background is exposed properly….diffuse your subject…then add the light. If your subjects are too bright…then turn down the power on the strobe – or back it up! Easy!

There you have it. Yes it can get confusing and complicated when you bring in strobes but there is nothing better for matching “subject to background light” than a nice big softbox. I will be teaching these techniques and MORE in my upcoming workshop “Art of the Photographic Portrait” August 20th in New Orleans – space is filling fast! Sign up Now! CLICK HERE!

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone! Zack

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