How to Shoot Portraits in Dappled Light

Dappled lighting often creates an interesting contrast between highlights and shadows, and when properly incorporated into a photograph, can serve as a creative enhancement. However, many beginning photographers are taught to avoid dappled light because of the complications it can sometimes create. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. Though the scattering of light can sometimes create problems, they’re easy to overcome with a basic knowledge of camera functions and composition:

Thanks to Daniel Norton from Adorama, here are a few quick tricks that can guide you through a situation involving an uneven light source:

Don’t be afraid to move your model around. The key to a successful dappled light image is properly using shadows to frame the subject. Try to position your model in a way such that their key facial features are not hidden in darkness. Though it can sometimes take a bit of time to experiment, the results are often well worth the wait. The patterns formed in diverse light can even serve as leading lines and add a compelling graphic element to a photo.

scattered natural light

Use a shallow depth of field when working with dappled light directly hitting a subject. Often times, an array of shadows and highlights can be confusing for viewers to process. With a detailed background, the composition can easily become too busy. To simplify your image, throw nonessential details out of focus. This way, the viewer won’t be detracted from elements located behind the subject.

Try using dappled light as a backdrop. Instead of using spots of sun as the main light source, utilize the light to create an appealing background behind your subject. A flash or portable strobe can be used to create an even light on a subject without risking background light becoming blown out. By allowing the surrounding light fall into bokeh, it’s possible to create a dreamy, beautiful effect while providing more flexibility for the subject to move about within the frame.

scattered light backdrop

The main thing to take away? The most beautiful images many photographers make break rules. Don’t be afraid of light in the field that’s less controlled—by following your eye or instincts and applying the knowledge you already have, you’re sure to get worthwhile images.

“Dappled light is one of those things that you always kind of see as you’re walking by with your camera, and you take a picture of somebody in it but it doesn’t always look great when you come back to it…so we’re going to play around a little bit talk about some techniques to get some better shots.”

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