Lighting NYC Portraits

Lighting urban portraits may not be as easy as it seems. Often the coolest spots have colored, reflected light or little to no light forcing you to bump ISO or skirt on the side of slow shudder speed. While these workarounds can have interesting effects on your photos, the majority of clients are looking for clean, well lit portraits. Here are a few ways to get the clean light you are looking for in an urban environment.

  • Look for bridges to pose your model under.

The majority of days in New York City are overcast and cloudy essentially turning the sky into a giant soft box. The light coming from directly overhead will produce dark circles underneath the eyes (or what is commonly known as panda eye). In order to make this soft light work for you, you must find shade to pose your model in. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but trust me, the light you will find in the shade on a cloudy day is better than the light in the sun. As you can see in the picture below, the light is directed into Annabel’s eyes, not above them. 

  • Use a reflector to pump light back into a model’s eyes.

Reflectors are used in a multitude of ways, but my favorite is to put some light back into a model’s eyes on a gloomy day. Often you can get just enough light to make it look natural. In the picture below, you can see the reflection of the reflector in Lilly’s glasses (actually a mistake on my part, my bad).

  • Flash some light into the scene. 

While this is not necessarily my style, you can create some gorgeous images by setting up a flash or two to put light exactly where you want it.

  • Find some neon signs to light your subject. 

This method is ala Brandon Woelfel (instagram: @brandonwoelfel). By putting your model in very colored light, you can be creative with the coloring of the rest of your portrait. Brandon keeps a very cotton candy color palate (blues and magentas) but the world of color is endless when you light with neon lighting.

  • Just embrace the circumstances and make something interesting.

Now this one doesn’t fly with clients, but you can still get some incredible photos by embracing your circumstances. On this photoshoot I was doing a halloween theme, and decided that I wanted to do a cute halloween picture and a creepy halloween picture. I embraced the difficulty of the lighting situation I was in, slowed down my shudder speed and had my model move her head to create an intentional blurring effect. The resulting photo was as creepy as I could have hoped for. 

I hope you all find these tips and tricks helpful! Don’t be afraid to comment if you have any questions or suggestions for other ways to light.

Also feel free to follow me on instagram @kurtmwiegand. I will be doing a giveaway soon for a print of your choice. To enter, just follow me and tag a friend on my last post.

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