It wasn’t too long ago that I would seek out perfectly even, perfectly bright and perfectly direct light. I quickly realized how much this style of shooting, while it isn’t wrong in any way, just wasn’t me. I love capturing my subjects in pockets of light and indirect light, especially indoors. What this means to me is finding light that gently meets the shadows on my subject. Give me that and I’m a happy girl!
I think most of us can find some of this type of light within our own homes. It can be easily overlooked because the light may only be a small amount (maybe only one light source) or indirectly coming from a window(s) and oftentimes we don’t think of using small spaces with less light and fewer windows. But it’s those things that spark my creativity. It truly can be beautiful and dramatic and that’s what I strive for in my work.
I don’t remember exactly when or how I stumbled upon how incredible my master bathroom was for photographing my boys, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve created some of my favorite photos in this small space. As you can see in this pullback photo (shot with my 35mm lens), our bathroom is a galley style bathroom and by no means is it huge. It has one large window just above the garden tub and that’s it. The great thing is the window is covered by shutters (great for manipulating the light how I want it) and the window faces a North’ish direction, not exact North but close enough. Up until about 4 months ago there was nothing obstructing that window from the outside. Unfortunately, a house was just built next door so now the light has changed a little, but I still have made the best of it and use this space on a regular basis. The bathroom is located just off the master bedroom so I do have the advantage of getting some of that window light spilling over into the bathroom area if I choose.
I want to show you an example of direct, flat light in this space. For this one, I sat crouched down in the garden tub and had Colton sit directly in front of me (note: if I was really wanting to shoot from that angle and position, I would have used my 35mm, however, I wanted to show you the same lens, same settings, and same processing for this example). The shutters were un-slanted and stayed horizontal in order to create the direct light. Yes, there are catchlights in his eyes, but other than that I don’t find there to be anything intriguing about this picture. This room can be extremely bright during midday and if I were to open up the shutters completely it would be perfect for a fun bath-time session with bright colored toys and tub crayons!
For the next photo I slanted the shutters downwards. I then had him sit right in the middle between the tub and the cabinets. I told him to stay in the middle if he could (I want to avoid having to get rid of too much of the cabinets and bathtub surround if possible in post) and to just ‘do his thing’. He’s 4 so that meant spinning around the floor in a 360! He was being silly and laughing and this was my favorite from the 16 minutes I had with him. Do you see how the light and shadows play around his chin, his neck, his shoulders, his ribs, even down to his toes? Those shadows provide drama, they provide a depth to the photo in which I feel like I can reach out and tickle him behind his little ears.
For this next photo of my older son, I actually shot it the next day and a couple hours later in the day. Instead of having him sit on the floor I had him sit in the bathtub and I shot from above standing against the shower glass, again with my 85mm. He was only about 2 feet or less from the open shutters. This side light provides incredible shadows and light fall off especially on the camera right side of his face and shoulders. I wanted that part of his face to be more shadowed and the other side light, yet still maintain the catchlights in both eyes. Again, the angle in which he is sitting in relationship to the window makes for a nicely lit photo with nice shadows as you can see in the color version. But my vision was to create a little bit more dramatic feel for it so I chose to make a black and white and achieved some of that drama in post processing. However, both the color and the black and white version have nice depth to them. You can see how in the SOOC version it still has much more depth than the photo of Colton sitting in front of the cabinets directly across from the window. This is because of his and my placement in relationship to the light source.
Hopefully these examples will help give you some ideas of how to shoot in indirect light and how to place yourself and your subject so that you can enhance the depth of light and shadows in your shooting!
Celeste Pavlik, Maryland
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Known for her dramatic use of light and admiration of black and white photography, photographer Celeste Pavlik has a gift for capturing a wide array of emotions in her honest and organic imagery of her subjects. While the subject of her lens is most often one, or all four of her sons, she also immerses herself in the quietness of macro and still life photography. Receiving acclamation in several juried shows, she is finding herself happily pulled in to the fine art world. Celeste is a Canon photographer and Lensbaby lover.