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Advice for shooting portraits, on a cloudy and dull day?

Steve Johnston , Nov 22, 2010; 06:42 a.m.

I have a portrait session coming up soon; the family asking for it take place in a local park rather than in the studio. However the days have been very dull and cloudy, and don’t look like they are getting any better. Have you got any tips for shooting in this kind of environment?

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Duncan Holmes , Nov 22, 2010; 07:12 a.m.

Cloudy means nice even lighting, remember that bright sunliught equals harsh shadows. If it is really dull and there's just not enough light, then you will need to play with fill flash without making them look like cardboard standees). If you drop the flash below 1 stop you should get catchlights in the eyes without overdoing it....some experimentation is needed. Rear curtain flash can help to capture more of the environment on slightly longer exposures than you might otherwise do.
Autumn winter means there's lots of leaf litter and other stuff (looking down and around) that can add to the composition. Looking up at the dull sky you might only get bare branches in silhouette which isn't as enticing a view for family pics.

Robert Chura , Nov 22, 2010; 08:32 a.m.

I agree with Duncan. Overcast is the best time for portraits.

Steve Johnston , Nov 22, 2010; 08:57 a.m.

I agree with Duncan. Overcast is the best time for portraits.
I haven't got any examples to hand, but my photos seem to come out rather dull when it's overcast.

Howard M , Nov 22, 2010; 09:12 a.m.

you're going to want to have some sort of fill/supplemental lighting to give it all some snap. the secret is to make it look 'natural' -ish or at least creative.

John A , Nov 22, 2010; 10:00 a.m.

Not all overcast is created equal and when shooting color it can affect the outcome (black and white loves it in all its forms!). Anyway, even overcast can be directional, so you need to be sure you position folks accordingly. There is also occasions where the light will be very bluish and this is not a good thing. I think a bit of flash, warm flash, can really help in these cases. Preferably having the light off camera if you can, something that doesn't give that paparazzi flash look.

B Christopher , Nov 22, 2010; 10:06 a.m.

You can still find nice direction of light under overcast conditions, if you know how and where to look. Additive and subtractive elements in the landscape(e.g., a stone wall, a shed, large tree, etc) can offer beautiful qualities and pleasant ratios. Overcast skies and locations with many such additive/subtractive elements just may be one of the best conditions for a family portrait session. I would consider supplemental lighting if I have an assistant.

Matt Laur , Nov 22, 2010; 10:44 a.m.

I just finished shooting a baby (and a beagle!) not three hours ago. The morning was misty, gray, and completely overcast. We started at 7:00AM, with nothing more than a smudge of light in the sky. The light never became anything like directional ... and I loved it, because I could add a light to the scene, and completely control what was going on. Used a monolight with a 1/2-CTO warming gel and a shoot-through umbrella to provide a puddle of camera-left key light, and a speedlight with a full CTO gel on a stand well behind the subject, more or less in line with where the seemed to be ... that second strobe was to graze the skin and hair just a bit.

Matt Laur , Nov 22, 2010; 10:45 a.m.

Woops, here's that set shot.

Matt Laur , Nov 22, 2010; 10:46 a.m.

Er, well, here's that set shot!


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