Window Light Portraits in Cuba

Many photographers have long known about the beautiful quality of window light. It works on anything from food to portraits. I've never really embraced window light portraits in the past, so it was good to have an opportunity to explore in Cuba.

Joe McNally Demonstration Of Window Light Portraits

Window Light Portraits

After a couple of days stomping through the city of Havana, we boarded a bus and headed off to the country for a couple of days. Viñales is definitely a popular tourist destination in Cuba. The only traffic jam I saw while in the country was when a plethora of tour buses overloaded the small roads out there.

We left Havana with mixed feelings. Some didn't want to leave the city, but I admit that I was ready to get out of town. It's a bit overwhelming for me, where others who are more accustomed to city life would have preferred to stay in Havana. Viñales was a bit of a drastic change, though.

For example, take a look at the bedroom in the image above. No glass in the windows. It's a shack with a hole in the wall.

We're out on Raul's farm (no, not Raul Castro). It took a bit of a hike down a road filled with horse apples. It's midday and the light outside is pretty harsh. You can see an example on my previous post about beautiful light from a bed sheet.

Joe gives the group a number of options for dealing with the situation. This bedroom is one of those options. You can see the results of Joe's photos on his post about Cuban Windows, but I grabbed a snapshot as he was getting ready to shoot Jesus.

One of the unfortunate elements of the room is that power outlet on the wall behind Jesus, but Joe manages to block it with his subject's head. Why bother with Content Aware Fill when you can eliminate the problem on the spot?

It's easy to walk into a situation and expect the camera to think about it, but it doesn't always work out well. Joe's advice was to underexpose the shot by a stop or so.  I noticed that was frequently repeated advice during this trip. and I started seeing things the way that he was explaining them.

It's another example of how my mind only accepts information when it's ready. There were no strobes or flashes to consider. It was just a matter of shooting to taste given the available elements. Left to its own devices, the typical shot at proper exposure did nothing more than document the person. Underexposing the shot gave the scene a bit of mood.

Another way to look at it would be to expose for the highlight on the subject's face, assuming you were spot metering. Even then, the camera likes to average things out to middle gray. That isn't always the most attractive option.

Smoking Sirous

Window Light PortraitsWe took turns shooting Jesus and most came out with a shot almost exactly like Joe's. Of course, that's because he shared his exposure and everything else was exactly the same.

Almost exactly. One person in our group misunderstood and overexposed by a stop and a third. It obviously didn't look the same and Jesus was already back to work. That's when I got the idea of substituting the subject with one of our own.

Sirous is a great guy, but he's also blessed with a photogenic face. He obliged us by posing with one of his cigars from the farm and we re-created the environment. The lady in our group was happy to have another shot at the lesson, but it also gave me a chance to experiment.

An exposure is just a matter of ratios. I'm still underexposed by a stop with my photo of Sirous, but I decided to shoot at a smaller aperture to get more detail. That meant bumping my ISO up to compensate for the loss of exposure. I got the detail I wanted without sacrificing the mood of the image.

The trip to Cuba was incredibly educational for me. Not only about the people and place itself. It was incredibly rewarding photographically. Not just about exposures and technical issues, but I learned a great amount of seeing possibilities and adapting to them with simple solutions. It was a good trip to face problems, make mistakes and then learn from them. I had a good teacher and companions. What more could I ask?

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