One of the advantages of shooting in the studio is that the photographer has full control over the intensity, direction and spread of the light, which allows for easy management of background details.
Additionally, in a studio, seamless backgrounds can be used to produce a clean, distraction-free environment ideal for portraits or still lifes.
However, natural light has great advantages: it is soft, directional and freely available. It pays to be able to bring studio-type effects outside. The technique discussed here is a simple method of shaping light, controlling where it propagates within the frame.
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This is done by taking pictures in direct sunlight (slightly diffused by cloud cover when possible) and using exposure controls to eliminate as much ambient light as possible. This generates a high contrast, underexposed look, which approximates the look produced using strobe lights and a black background. Direct sunlight is preferable because the intensity will widen the exposure differences between the lit and shaded areas of the scene.
Try to shoot in the middle of the afternoon as this will place the sun high in the sky, but with some direction in the lighting. Accurate metering will ensure that no highlight detail is lost and the subject itself does not appear to be underexposed – only shaded areas will be visibly darkened.
1. Choose a topic
First you need to select a specimen that is well lit by natural daylight. Ideally, the background will be more shaded, so that there is already some contrast – for example, the spots of light in the woods are perfect for this style of shooting.
2. Select the aperture and ISO
Choose an initial aperture appropriate for your subject, starting around f11. Be sure to use the lowest ISO setting available to minimize capture of ambient light, resulting in increased background contrast.
3. Strength meter
Use Spot metering mode and place your AF point on the brightest part of your subject to calculate exposure from highlights. Take note of the exposure settings suggested by one of the P, A, or S modes.
4. Switch to manual mode
Set your camera to Manual and enter the parameters calculated in step 3. This will ensure that you have full control over the brightness of your photo and that the exposure will not change unexpectedly while you are composing.
5. Increase shutter speed
Then shorten your exposure by about one stop to underexpose the background and make it solid black – if your metered exposure was 1/125 s, increase it to 1/250 s, etc. Leave the f-stop and ISO set for now.
6. Customize settings
Shoot and examine your image. If you need a darker background, increase the exposure further in half stop increments until you get a smooth background effect, or select a higher f-number.
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