Light has four major qualities: quality, quantity, color and direction and the least expensive lighting equipment you can use to make portraits is the sun. It’s free and even on cloudy days produces a wonderfully soft effect and it’s easy to use. Under most lighting conditions your camera’s built-in meter will give anywhere from acceptable to perfect exposures. Learning to see the light is not difficult but does take some practice. That practice should take the form of not only constantly making new images but also taking the time to analyze those photographs after you’ve created them.
The model (at left) was photographed at Buffalo Bill State Historical Park (there’s a small admission charge) in North Platte Nebraska on a bright, sunny day, the kind of day that the little slip of paper that Kodak used to packs with film says is 1/125 sec at f/16 but here with a Canon EOS 5D with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens produced an exposure of 1/200 sec at f/8 which in theory would be slightly underexposed but I compensated for the obvious backlighting by using an 580 EX II speedlite for fill.
As photographers seeking to master the art of exposure, seeing that light is the key mastering the art of exposure. If there’s any secret, it’s learning how to see the light falling on your subject, especially the range of shadows and highlights within a scene. The chiaroscuro, as the Italian Renaissance painters called it, is the effect of representing various contrasts of light to achieve a sense of three-dimensionality within a two dimensional frame.