Manipulating the Sun: The Billey’s show us how to really rock natural light

Lighting, it’s the stuff dreams are made of, along with butterflies and rainbows.  It’s also one of the fundamental Foundations of Photography.  It’s more important than the type of Camera you own – Nikon/Canon really?  Who cares!  Photography happens in the brain – it is all the little decisions we make to create striking imagery.  It is bringing together all the little components to voice your opinion through your lens.   Creating your concept one click at a time (or one flash at a time for that matter).  In our (more mine than my counterpart’s) feeble little minds there are 4 different components to creating a wicked image.

  1. 1. Subject (usually people, in this case Seniors (the High School Variety, not the Silver Club))
  2. 2. Environment
  3. 3. Photographer (usually embodies Creativity, and a killer Attitude, and typically drops serious loot on their equipment)
  4. 4. Light (in every aspect of the physical world)

But for the purposes of this post we will focus on #4 and a little on #2.  By the way, if in any way this article gets boring please feel free to check your facebook and return when your attention span is longer.  😉

Lighting comes in all forms and shapes: flash, strobes, headlights, overhead lights, spotlights, assistants with white shirts and my personal favorite, the Sun.  Now, do you have to go out and drop your hard earned cash on the latest and greatest equipment?  Of course you do! No I’m lying, really you don’t at all.  I once knew this guy who would shoot his entire session using 2 chicken lights from Home Depot (or was it Lowes?). Anyway, check out his work  Absolutely wicked.  What I’m saying is creativity before financiality (I don’t think that’s a word but I’m gonna use it).


One of our fundamental concepts when shooting here in the Great State of Arizona is to use the most abundant and powerful light source available – the Sun (also known as God’s light) – and manipulate it.  How the heck do you manipulate the sun you say?  Well, we (of course) like to use and build a lot of our own light modifiers to push and pull the light from the sun.  We use everything from foamcore, reflectors, blankets, and we even have this little nifty PVC-scrim that we cart around everywhere – it triples as a shader/diffuser/reflector – it’s the Bomb (sorry if I sound 30-something)!  Our scrim ain’t pretty but man she gets the job done.

When we approach the environment – any environment – we’re always looking for natural reflectors; concrete walls/ground, the color of the paint on the side of a building (is it reflecting light in a desirable direction?), and so on.  There are a plethora of natural light modifiers in the wild (I mean outside your studio).  Figuring out when they work and how to best utilize them is completely up to you.  Take note on what times of day your natural light modifiers are at their best and when to utilize them.  Does this mean you should always shoot early in the morning or later in the evening?  Nope.  We shoot midday all the time.  We just put our subjects where the light is right or we manipulate the light completely: we use the H-E-double hockey sticks out of our scrim! Did I say that already?

Our scrim is probably one of the most important and versatile pieces of equipment in our arsenal.   We use it as a reflector, a shader, a diffuser, and on windy days – a sail!  No really, if I was alone on a boat in the middle of the ocean I would really want a scrim, and probably a glass of water…..  Anyway, it’s this big 3ft x 6.5ft white panel.  See Picture somewhere around this page.  Shading your subjects, and filtering the overhead light source at high noon, can have some really wicked lighting effects by bathing your subjects in a very soft light.  It also allows you more control with the direction of light.  Lets say you run an overhead scrim to filter the light: then with a reflector, or perhaps a piece of foamcore, you pop the light back in to create a nice little catch light/underlight. Taa-Daa!  A couple hundred dollars of lighting in a piece of scrim and foamcore!  Layering your image with lighting takes a bit of practice and balance, especially if you’re shooting by yourself.  But in the end the results are undeniably awesome!


The reflector is a piece of equipment that should be in every photographer’s bag, or at least in a car nearby.   There are sooo many reflectors on the market today so how do you choose? Simple.  We picked the one that gave us the most bang for our buck –the 5 in 1 (and it’s the big one too – 48in).  Personally I would hunt for a used one, the light off of a used reflector is softer and more tolerable than a new one fo sho.  We’re the type of photographers that will blind the living poo out of our clients with a reflector just to get that one amazing shot.  Mid-day, 110 degrees, guess what, the light is gonna be in yo Face!  Of course we do care for our clients vision and over-all tan-ability so we use a little technique to mitigate their exposure to burning retina syndrome. We simply set up our clients by having them close their eyes, then we hit em with the reflector, count: 3-2-1 and have them open their eyes and click!  You’ve gotta be quick, because you have less than a second before they throw out the angry eyes. Being Fast and Furious with the camera catches great images!

Layering your image with natural light becomes a soulful dance, but you’ve got find what works for you.  Give it a shot, you might love what you create. Til next time! Now, go check your facebook – it’s calling your name.

More images and lighting examples below – click on any image to view larger.




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6 Responses to Manipulating the Sun: The Billey’s show us how to really rock natural light

  1. alexanderphotog April 24, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Great info, right there! You guys freakin rock! I’d love to watch you work your lighting voodoo someday.

  2. ChristyShipp April 25, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Seriously?!?!?!  I love you two!  And your cute munchkins!  I used to do tall of this in college!  It’s funny what we forget over time and the biggest-n-best.  This is by far some of the BEST inspiration and technique I have come across in a long time.  THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing!  Jase and I really look up to you guys. 🙂  

  3. June 12, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    I all the time emailed this web site post page to all my friends, because if
    like to read it then my contacts will too.

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