PORTRAITURE BY SUNLIGHT
Costly lighting equipment is not a necessary adjunct to making good portraits. They can be made in your own back yard by using this simple method.
IT has often been said that sunlight is difficult to control; that it makes the subject squint; that the contrasts are too great; that diffusing screens flatten the light. But here is a method which anyone can use to make portraits by pure sunlight that will rival the products of the most elaborately equipped modern studio.
You can have all the light you want, of
any brilliance or degree of diffusion, from any angle, and at any hour the sun is visible. The “secret” is to have the sun at the back of the subject. It shines in your eyes but also directly upon the movable reflectors by which you redirect it as you will.
I used three types of reflectors in making these illustrations; a rectangular mirror, a foil-covered card, and a plain
white card. The mirror was used for background illumination, the foil for highlighting, and the white card for shadow illumination. A matte-surfaced card is better than a glossy one, and blotting paper is still better. The pure sunlight from a mirror is too hot and uncomfortable to use directly on the subject’s face, but is good for a bright sideor toplight. The card reflectors, both foil and plain, would be better if round or oval rather than rectangular as shown in the illustrations. Then the catch-light in the eye would be round, as it should be. You could also have several of these cards in various sizes ranging from 6" to 24" in diameter.
The intensity and quality of the light is altered by moving each unit in turn nearer to, or farther from, the subject. It is easier to move the reflectors around individually to the desired angle and position and then bring your upright support to that position rather than to move both support and reflector around together. Should you want a brighter highlight, move the foil reflector closer. Should you want a deeper shadow, remove the white card or use a smaller one. You can make it still darker by placing a piece of black card or cloth (to absorb the light) on the subject’s knees or on an arm from a low stand. This is a good idea, too, when the model is wearing white.
By the way, if your subject is wearing glasses you will have a most difficult time
eliminating reflections from them. The sky, adjacent light-colored buildings, and objects of all kinds will be picked up. It can be done, of course, if you take the trouble to shield the whole front of your set with black screens and place your reflectors at an angle where they will not show in the glasses.
I hasten to warn you always to shield your lens. This system of redirected light may be used to advantage in home or studio. With each reflector, pick up the light from a spot or other source and redirect it exactly where you want it. Naturally, it is ideal for color work, either inside or out.
A couple of wire coat hangers, a spring paper clip, and a clamp were used to hold the plain card to the simple stand. Coat hangers are very useful gadgets. You can bend them to any angle. Notice that the one under the card is pulled out to a square form. The purpose was to emphasize that anyone with a camera (of any size or style), a mirror, a couple pieces of card, coat hangers, hat racks, or other upright supports, can use the sun, which costs nothing, as a perfect light source.
Fig. 1 is the result of using three reflectors. The left side of the background, which was cream-colored oilcloth, was made practically white by the clear sunlight redirected to it by the mirror. (This is the only illustration using the mirror.) The highlight on the hair is direct sunlight. The very delicate highlight on the right side of the face is from the foilcovered card and the shadow illumination is from the white card. Note the line of light outlining the forehead on the left against the hair. Note how it continues more softly down the cheek. And don’t miss the tiny line of light under the chin.
Another point is that the brilliantly lighted hair on the outside right is contrasted against the darker shade of the background on that side while the dark outline of the hair on the left side is contrasted against the white background. Note also that the model appears quite comfortable with no suggestion of glaring sunlight.
The pictures were made in two sittings on two hot mornings. Two negatives of each pose were made in case of a scratch or any one of the many other mishaps which might befall them. There is positively no after-manipulation on any of them. Development was by time and temperature in a tank; no retouching on negatives (Eastman Portrait Pan) ; no dodging in printing, by which improvements could have been made; no change of paper (Kodabrom glossy) and no retouching or other manipulation on the prints with the exception of an occasional dust spot.
Much more contrast than is shown in any of them is easily obtainable. The top light can easily be cut down or entirely eliminated. With a small reflector at the right distance you can even put a single tiny highlight right on the tip of the nose, if you want to. It is possible to reproduce approximately the most beautiful lighting examples you have in your collection of specimens. By using two mirrors, or two foil reflectors, you can duplicate, or imi-
tate, the most bizarre “dramatic” lighting. I mean you can have light on each side of equal intensity such as was never seen on land or sea, but currently much used in advertising and style illustrations, and ideal for color.
Before the days of fast lenses and fast emulsions, photographers were told to place their subjects in the direct light of the sun with the back of the camera to the sun. Screens of various sorts were placed between the light and the subject. Some screens had a hole in the middle and others had rows of shirred curtains which could be parted here and there to let the clear light through. But the method of using reflected light has changed all of this and has the advantage of being more easily and more accurately controlled.
Speaking of light, don’t forget that the very word “photography” actually means “light-recording” or “light-writing.” It is composed of two words. The first is the Greek word “phos” or “photos,” which means light. The second is “grapho,” which means “to write.” The combination indicates recordings made with the aid of light. It follows that a photograph is a record of light made with a camera (light as reflected from a subject, of course) ; that a camera is an instrument for recording light; that photography means recording or writing with light and a photographer is one who records or writes with light. What could be more helpful for all who call themselves photographers, both amateur and professional, than to keep this always in mind.
There are many important elements in present-day photography, such as composition, emphasis, expression, action, etc., but light heads the list quite obviously and undisputably because none of these others could even exist without it. It is interesting to note that all of the really important elements of photography belong out in front of the camera and have their existence before the shutter is released. The best of black-and-white or other monochrome photographs of today are extremely crude representations of light. Only a few things reflect all light and therefore appear to be white. All else is reflected light called “color.” It is only a color film or print which even approximately records light as it actually is.
Therefore as light-recorders we are only at the beginning. Methods and mediums for the recording of real light in all of its colorful beauty are still in the early stages of development. But whether you use the present-day color film or monochrome your attention is directed to the possibilities for pleasure and enlightenment through using redirected sunlight.
This may seem like a return to the Gay 90’s, photographically speaking, but actually it is an extension of your skill. It is recommended that you experiment with a subject and the reflectors before you start to take a picture. Try the various reflecting surfaces in several positions and note the lighting effect produced on the subject. Then set to work taking pictures. Here’s wishing you many sunny, happy hours.—I*