NATURAL OR ARTIFICIAL?

In this special feature on lighting, CRAIG FLEMING has a metaphorical punch-up with himself about which is best... How do you take your tea? I like mine with one sugar —thatsugar mind not sweetener, I can tell the difference a mile off. It s not that it s wrong itjust that... well, it s just not right! I m the same with lighting. Often, when shooting on location, Ilug my entire kit of monoblocs and accessories up four flights of stairs only to find when I get there that the only piece of kit I really needed was my tripod and camera. The fact is that when shooting portraits in places like hotels and country houses, natural light is often best. The problem we have in this country is that you just cannot rely on there being enough of it around on any given day in the calendar. In fact, for four months of the year you can almost guarantee there wonbe enough of it at all. Shooting in beautiful locations using flash tends to kill any ambience, and recreating natural lighting using flash can be difficult. So I say, why fight it? The latest generation of DSLRs has relatively good performance at ISOs of around 800-1600. This is often enough to get exposures in the range of 1/30sec at f/4 and couple that with one or two handheld reflectors and you may be surprised at the results. Ihandheld shots as low as l/20sec, although I wouldnrecommend this and will now use my tripod in these instances rather than relying on my hands and Canonimage stabilising system.  NATURAL OR ARTIFICIAL?Another option is to look at a lens such as a 50mm f/1.4. Such wide apertures are a bonus in lowlight, and if depth-of-field is not an issue then lenses like these are definitely a worthwhile addition to your gadget bag —and you can generally pick new ones up for less than ?300. Reflectors are an often overlooked piece of equipment in my eyes and they are an absolute must in any portrait photographerarmoury. Again theyrelatively inexpensive and when used carefully they will lift an average portrait out of the gloom into a very good portrait. In their simplest form a bed sheet or a white towel will suffice, though I would suggest as a working pro you go this route on a shoot with a client! The purpose built collapsible ones are ideal, specially the five-in-one versions which are remarkable value. A couple of these in your kit and you can use it to fill in those shadows that could otherwise ruin a beautiful shot. The thing is, as I said earlier, you never know until you get on site what will suit. The manufacturers have helped us massively with the new breed of DSLRs able to shoot at ISO 3200, and even 6400, and still get relatively grain-free images with punchy colours and enough depth-of-field to aid sharpness and focusing accuracy. And those who enjoy their lighting craft will perhaps consider lugging all that kit as just part of the job —or the assistantanyway! MIXING THE TWO There will be times when the light flooding in through a window is just unsuitable for effective indoor portraits. These are the times when you will be tested as a photographer. One suggestion is to mix the two, balancing the flash with the ambience to give the correct ratio without mining the image. NATURAL OR ARTIFICIAL LIGHT THEN? The fact remains there is no right or wrong. For me, if enough natural light of a sufficient quality is available then that is what I will go for, especially if Ishooting for myself. If therea client involved and youshooting clothing, for example, then it may well be that they want the type of shot that shows every last detail of their product, even down to the stitching. If, however, youshooting beauty or editorial then you may need that still’quality that natural light provides. It is, as with so many things in photography, horses for courses as they say. But by playing around with light and leading your own way youfind yourself beautifully equipped to deal with whatever situation arises regardless.

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