Monday, April 9, 2012

Lighting For B&W

Text And Photography By William Sawalich Published in Advanced Camera Technique
Lighting For B&W
Clamshell lighting is perfect for high-key portraiture because it's so soft and frontal that even if you're not overexposing, you're bound to eliminate blemishes and produce a beautiful, flattering light. Overexpose a half-stop or more, and suddenly you'll see the skin's details recede while the eyes begin to glow. A beautiful lighting approach in every way, it's perfect for the high-key.

Ambient Sunlight Outdoors

Photographers have always used softened sunlight to render subjects in literally the most flattering light imaginable. Outdoors on a cloudy day, contrast is minimized, shadows aren't deep, highlights don't immediately blow out, and the even illumination works well for a variety of subjects—especially portraits. A one-stop overexposure of a fair-skinned subject on an overcast day is bound to be beautifully high-key.

Outdoor Sun—Top View

But what if the sky isn't cooperating and the sun is blaring at high noon? The smart money is on open shade—that's the area of bright illumination found on the shadow side of a structure, in the doorway of a building or under the canopy of a tall tree. The key with open shade is to find a position in which bright sunlight is falling nearby. With subtle overexposure, it can appear as refined as any studio source.

Outdoor Sun—Side View

When I photographed Alyssa, though, I used neither an overcast sky nor naturally occurring open shade. I modified the direct sunlight with help from an assistant holding a 4x8 silk over my shoulder to diffuse the harsh sun and create a beautifully bright (and immensely soft) shadow in which my subject posed. This lighting is so simple, and the effect so beautiful, that it's hard to recommend any other approach. For beautiful, glamorous and immensely flattering light—available to any photographer, with any equipment and any budget—there's nothing better.

William Sawalich is a professional photographer and frequent contributor to Digital Photo Pro. See more of his work at

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