Photos © 1999, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved
When I look at old photos,
I mean circa 1910, not my high school yearbook, I marvel at how beautiful
they are. Those old time photographers had things a lot tougher than
we do now, what with large format cameras, slow film speeds, and no
electronic flash. The single most outstanding quality of their photos
is the light. That's because many of the old timers used only
daylight for their light source and were quite adept at it. When properly
used, it's hard to find a more beautiful light.
When doing wedding photography, one of the first things I do is scope
out my shooting area, trying to locate a spot for nice window light
portraits. In my studio, as I've written about in a previous Shutterbug,
I sometimes use a window as my light source, placing backgrounds on
movable flats so that I can position them just where I want--it's
much easier than moving the window. There are problems with this technique.
Sometimes the window faces the wrong direction. If you've got
a southern exposure and it's a sunny day, you'll either
have to forget about it or use some type of scrim. Even when you've
got a window that faces north, it may be too dark, you may have snow
kicking light up from underneath, or worse yet--it could be night. Then
what do you do?
Well, you could do what my friend Chris Beltrami did with his Barre,
Vermont studio. Make your own north light and make it available 24 hours
a day, 365 days a year. You can get beautiful, repeatable results. Tell
Mother Nature to take a hike, you're packing your own light. If
you want to create your own daylight studio, here's a look at
how Beltrami built his plus some tips on revisions he might make after
shooting with it for about a year.
First, let's think about why we like north light so much. Every
light source has four characteristics--quality, quantity, color, and
direction. The defining characteristic of north light is its quality.
It's big, soft, and diffused. Since it's coming from the
north, it catches the direct sunlight and bounces it off the sky. Maybe
that's where the term "skylight" came from. So if
we want to replicate "skylight," we need to make sure our
source is big, soft, and diffused. What we need is a softbox about 10x12',
with a depth of about 4'.