Natural light can produce fantastic portraits

I learned portraiture for a basic reason: To save money when my daughter needed senior portraits.

Candid portraiture by Andy Crawford

David Morefield as photographed by natural window light.

Now I spend many weekends meeting families and high school seniors capturing memories, and I love it. But I’ll admit that I developed a near-complete dependence on flashes to light the subjects.

To be fair, this dependence extends years back. It began while shooting images of anglers with fish: Using flash is just a requirement for quality fishing photos, since everyone wears caps or visors, and light needs to be added to the shadows.

And with portraits, the need is basically the same. After all, unless the sun is hidden by clouds (my absolute favorite time to shoot portraits), I have to work a little harder to either find areas of complete shade or use exposures that allow me to push enough flash to overcome dappled shade/sun.

However, natural light has its place, as I recently found out while on a photo shoot with some buddies in New Orleans. We were relaxing in Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street when I noticed the great light hitting David Morefield, who was sitting across the table from me.

So I grabbed my camera and took a few frames that he now uses as his profile image on his site and social media platforms.

David returned the favor, and when I leaned back to glance out of one of the windows of the poorly lighted watering hole, he took what is probably the best image of me I’ve ever seen.

French Quarter portrait by Andy Crawforrd

Using natural light for portraits requires some though and preparation to ensure the sun isn’t hitting the subject fully.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and I returned to the Big Easy with my 19-year-old daughter Gabby for some daddy-daughter time. After putting a lot of miles on our shoes, we stopped at the Blacksmith Shop to cool down. Of course, I had designs on getting natural-light portraits of Gabby.

I loved the result.

We also took some portraits against different walls in the centuries-old French Quarter. And the results were pretty danged good.

It’s a different approach, and requires some attention to details that artificial light usually works around. But I’ll definitely be looking for opportunities to work some natural-light images into my portrait jobs in the future.

About Andy Crawford

Andy Crawford has been a photographer and writer for more than 20 years, with thousands of images and articles published in magazines and newspapers around the country. He now focuses on Louisiana photography, landscapes, HDR photography, urban prints and other fine art photography. He also is a portrait photographer.