Out on the street there is a strong tendency to work in flat shade light, particularly when you know from experience how harsh actual sunlight can be. In the dark inner-city canyons avoiding direct sun is a tried and true method.

There is, however, another way to work. One that gives you direction and shape, without the harshness of direct light. It’s also quick, easy and very portable.


The photo above was taken at a recent street shoot which was part of a workshop run by Nick Rains demonstrating the Leica SL for customers of DigiDirect’s store in Sydney. No flash, no big softbox, just a couple of small reflectors and some careful placement of the model.

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This image gives you the clue – not a great image in itself (!), but look at the bright light reflecting off the building in the distance. This what the model is facing,  our light source. It’s big, white and bright, overpowering the dingy light in our alleyway and acting like a big softbox.

The key to street portraits is to look around for a good source of reflected light, one that is above your eye-level. Reflected off the ground is not very useful because it casts odd shadows on your models face.

Then you can use simple folding reflectors to add a catch light under the eye, giving the eyes life and sparkle. One final touch was to actually hold a black-covered reflector over the model’s head, out of frame, to shade her from the high blue sky which was casting some slight shadows under her eyes.

The result looks like it was shot with a big flash unit with a huge softbox – even the colour of the light is warmer.

Open shade is fine but has little direction. Look for open shade near to where the sun is illuminating a wall or building and you can get this polished look with very little effort. Just make sure the bright light is not coming off something with a strong colour otherwise you’ll get a colour cast that will be hard to remove.

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Images shot by Nick Rains on a Leica SL with a 90-290mm lens. Model: Chantelle. Makeup by herself.