If you’re a portrait photographer who loves to shoot in natural light and who also lives in a big city, here’s a great tip for you. Tall buildings on cities are often reflecting light off of one another and therefore creating a type of specular light. Imagine it sort of like sunlight being reflected off of a mirror. This reflected light acts like a natural photographic reflector and therefore gives subjects a bit of a spotlight look.
So what’s so great about this light?
First off, this light is oftentimes soft because windows on buildings are typically far larger than the people being photographed. Soft light is the easiest to work with when it comes to creating flattering portraits. In fact, it’s an essential to most portrait tips out there.
Second, because this extra light source is present, it’s also often best viewed in the context of surrounding buildings with some sort of darker background or element in the scene. This natural contrast combined with the light being reflected onto your subject will make them stand out a whole lot more from the scene. This makes shooting in parks sometimes very easy to do.
When using this technique, you should look at the ground first as you’re walking around to spot these reflected lights. Then consider the major rule of portraiture when it comes to colors: keep it simple. Make the background one color, the skin tones another color and the wardrobe another. With that said, all three elements will stand out just enough from one another to make it work.
Third, you should know that this type of lighting has limitations. It’s best taken advantage of around the Golden Hour–but preferably before it starts to come into full bloom.
This type of lighting is sometimes used to create the Rembrandt look: which by definition creates a small triangle of light opposite of the light source’s direction on the person’s face. It’s a very popular look.