Millinery Photography Tips – Light and the golden hour

Our first tip is about light. Photography is all about light. How you control it, how you direct it and how you modify it.

This can be a really complex subject but the idea behind these posts is to make suggestions that are easy to do and achievable. So here we go.

The best light is actually free. It is the sun. But even the sun can be more temperamental than a Sicilian catwalk queen.

The key to managing light from the sun is all about understanding when best to use it. When the sun is directly above, say around noon, early afternoon it is very bright and quite hard leading to over exposure. It can be unforgiving even on the smoothest of skins and with a hat on (assuming you are using a model) the shadows can be harsh.

There are scenarios where this may work but as a general rule it will cause what photographers call peaking. This is where an image has lots of white highlights (over exposed) or lots of black shadows (under exposed) but little or no mid-tones. Mid-tones are vital to a good millinery shot but let’s leave that subject for another day.

There are a number of simple ‘hacks.’ You could diffuse the light by mocking up say a white bed sheet and letting the sun come through that and onto your hat. That will reduce the hardness of the light. If you want to reduce it even more, simple. Just add more layers of sheet. All you need to ensure is that the sheet is translucent, light can pass through it, rather than opaque.

You could also use white reflectors that can be hand held over your subject. If you are feeling really creative you can use different reflector colours and bounce the sunlight onto your hat. Get the kids involved to hold and position the reflectors whilst you photograph. When you are using the sun it is ‘always on’ so you can get an immediate idea of the light effect. These are great reflectors. If you can’t afford reflectors you can use anything that will reflect or bounce light. I’ve even used polystyrene ceiling tiles in the past.

But for many this might be a bit of a faff. An alternative is to shoot during the golden hour or the magic hour. These occur in the early morning or evening before sunset. The sun is much lower and further away at these times, so less harsh. The effect is dramatic. The light is not only softer but also warmer and so very flattering, especially on female skin. The effect is why so many cinematographers use the golden hour in film. You can even buy apps for your phone that work out when the golden hour will happen based on your phone’s GPS location setting.

Apple have done a very short video that explains how to use an iPhone 7 during the golden hour. You can click here to see how easy it is to do. The same principles apply whether you shoot in the evening or morning.

In terms of positioning relative to the light source (the sun) that is up to you and you can experiment, (bearing in mind that the golden and magic hours only last for an hour-ish). You could do straight on but I prefer to use what is called Rembrandting, after the Dutch Master. To do this position your hat so that the sun is at a 45 degree angle to the left or the right, whichever you prefer.

I hope this is off use and if you have any feedback, just let me know.

In the next post I will look at the smartphone. Whilst phones can be limiting I want to talk about how you can get the best out of them.

If anybody has any requests just let us know and we will try and help.

Jon & Anjee run The Portrait Kitchen. They specialise in millinery photography, helping milliners from all over the world make great hat photographs to market to their clients. Millinery Photography Tips has been developed to help milliners learn how to photograph their work no matter what their budget.


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