If I were asked to pick the one technique that has made me a better photographer and helped me make better portraits over the years it would have to be "shooting in the shade". It's a very simple idea - you take your subject, put them somewhere where the ambient light isn't very strong and then use a background where there is plenty of ambient light. I wrote a very early technique page on my website about something I called "not portable shade" as an answer to the complicated, expensive and difficult to manage systems for creating shaded areas in the open. I've used trees, buildings and even other people to create shade in contrast to the idea that you might have five assistants, ten lighting stands and a lot of material to achieve much the same thing.


Of course the disadvantage of this technique is that there isn't always shade exactly where you want it and so there has to be some compromises. Most work, some don't. This first image is an example of a shot that was planned well enough but that didn't work all that well.

The portrait was planned for late morning but was delayed by half an hour. The plan was for the building to be a silhouette and for the subject to be further away from the building but she was delayed in a meeting and the angle of the sun changed. The area of shade had shrunk and the building was suddenly half in the sunlight and half out making the composition very tricky. The PR for the subject and I had stood outside in December waiting and we shot a few frames before going inside and shooting plan B - a set of pictures that I had already put the lighting in place for. Not quite as much fun, but it worked well and the upright version of the image made a good front page.

The next image was shot for the same client about a week later. The weather was equally good and I made use of the shade again. This time there was no waiting around and the choice of backgrounds was infinitely wider.

The idea behind this image is a simple one. He is a senior member of the management team at Cambridge University and the building in the background is the Senate. He is positioned underneath a covered walkway where the exposure would have been 1/60th of a second at f4 on 200 ISO. The building in the background was in direct sunlight and the exposure there was 1/180th of a second at f11. Shooting with the correct exposure for the background would have made our subject a silhouette and the whole point of this technique is to light them carefully in the foreground.

I was using a Lumedyne Signature series flash kit with a 40" (1 metre) shoot through white umbrella. It was positioned as close to the subject as I could get it without getting it into the wide horizontal version of this frame. In practice the umbrella was just under two metres (less than 80") away from the subject and off to the side at an angle of about sixty degrees from the axis of the lens. The lens was a 24-70 f2.8L Canon on an EOS5D MkII with the lens zoomed to 38mm. The flash was set at about ten degrees above the subject's eyeline.

The set up and shoot time was less than five minutes and we had time to shoot more pictures in other locations around the University. The "classic" view of Cambridge is often seen as the one with King's College Chapel and that was where we headed next before ending up on a bridge over the River Cam where we shot the picture below. I won't describe it blow by blow because I already have done... well sort of and the details are here.

© Neil Turner March 2009

Links: Subscribe to newsletter
  Back to blog home page
  My Portfolio
  Email Me
  New Technique pages
  Old Technique pages
  About Me
  In my camera bag
  The Strobist
  Jez Coulson's blog
  Photo This and That
  Drew Gardner - The Dark Art
  Zack Arias - one light
  The BPPA
Archive: July 2009
  June 2009
  May 2009
  April 2009
  March 2009
  February 2009
  January 2009
  December 2008
This web site is ©Neil Turner 2008. All content is protected by copyright laws in the European Union and in the United States of America. For further details, contact the site owner . For details of policies including diversity and privacy please contact us.