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3 Minutes to Master Natural Light Portraits: Unveiling Nathan Elson's Window Light Secrets

6/09/2024 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

3 Minutes to Master Natural Light Portraits: Unveiling Nathan Elson's Window Light Secrets

The allure of natural light photography natural light photography lies in its ability to create soft, flattering portraits. But harnessing the power of available light can be a challenge, especially when you're pressed for time. In this blog post, inspired by renowned photographer Nathan Elson, we'll unveil three simple yet effective natural light setups you can create in just three minutes, using readily available window light and reflectors.

The Magic of Window Light

Natural light offers a diffused, soft quality that's perfect for creating flattering portraits. Window lightWindow light, in particular, provides a directional source of illumination, adding depth and dimension to your images.  Nathan Elson emphasizes this point in his video, demonstrating how to utilize window light strategically to achieve captivating results.

Essential Gear:

Before we delve into the setups, here's a quick rundown of the essential gear you'll need:
  • Camera: Any DSLR or mirrorless camera will work.
  • Lens: A prime lens in the 50mm-85mm focal length range is ideal for portraits.
  • Tripod (Optional): While not essential, a tripod can help you achieve sharper images, especially in lower light situations.
  • Reflectors: A white or silver reflector is crucial for bouncing light back onto your subject. You can use a commercially available reflector or even a large white bounce card (think foam board covered in white paper).

3 Natural Light Setups in 3 Minutes

Now, let's explore Nathan Elson's three quick and easy natural light setups:

Setup 1: The Simple and Soft Look

This basic setup is perfect for beginners or when you have limited space. Here's how to achieve it:

  1. Position Your Subject: Place your subject directly in front of a large window, with the natural light falling on them from the side. This creates a soft, even light across their face.
  2. Reflector Magic: For additional control and to fill in any shadows, position your white reflector on the opposite side of your subject, bouncing light back onto their face. As Nathan demonstrates in his video, adjusting the angle of the reflector allows you to fine-tune the amount of fill light.

Setup 2: Adding Dramatic Flair

Want to create a more dramatic portrait with a defined light source? This setup is for you:

  1. Subject Placement: Position your subject slightly off-center from a window, with the light hitting them from the side at a more pronounced angle. This creates a more dramatic lighting effect with a defined highlight on one side of the face.
  2. Flagging for Contrast: Here's where things get interesting. Instead of using a white reflector, Nathan suggests using the black side of a reflector (or a large piece of black fabric) positioned opposite the light source. This technique, known as flagging, absorbs excess light and helps to darken the shadows on the opposite side of the face, creating a more dramatic and edgy look.

Setup 3: The Creative Canvas

Feeling adventurous? This setup encourages you to play with light and shadow for a unique artistic effect:

  1. Subject and Light Source: Position your subject further away from the window, allowing them to be bathed in softer, diffused light.
  2. Experiment with Shadows: The key to this setup lies in creatively utilizing the shadows cast by the window or other objects in the room. You can use these shadows to frame your subject or create a more textured background, as Nathan demonstrates in his video.

These three setups from Nathan Elson offer a fantastic starting point for creating beautiful natural light portraits. Remember, mastering natural light photography is a journey of exploration and experimentation.  

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more, don't forget to subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

You may also like: Using ONE LIGHT for Amazing Results


About Nathan Elson:

I'm a commercial photographer based out of Calgary, AB. My YouTube channel will be a place for my behind the scenes, Q&A, and whatever else happens to make it into video form that seems like people might be interested in viewing. Let's Get Connected: | LIGHTROOM & CAPTURE ONE PRESET PACKS: | STUDIO LIGHTING WORKSHOP 

Image and video via Nathan Elson