Thursday, January 14, 2010

13 Ways to Better Photos...DAY 4 {lighting}

This is a tricky subject. ESPECIALLY if you are just a normal everyday-Joe taking pictures of your dog or kids or Great-Grandmother Ruth. Because it seems quite ridiculous to me to manipulate your subjects while they are playing with Polly Pockets or plan your birthday parties around the sunset or reinstall light fixtures in your home JUST FOR PHOTOGRAPHS. So for all of us practical folk who enjoy the simplicity of snapping photos at ease, these few tips should help.

I hope…

What is the best time of day to shoot? If you answered morning or evening you’d be right! And overcast skies are MUCH BETTER than sunshine for photos. Sunshine tends to accentuate shadows…which always happen to land on the black bags under my eyes or my unsightly jaw line. Both of which I would prefer to not have documented for my grandchildren to gawk at…err…admire.

day 4 lighting harsh shadows

{do you see that fabulous accentuation of the shadows? yeah...}



Anyways…if you have the opportunity (if!), try to remember to time your photos around the sun. And if you are taking your chances in a planned photo shoot, avoid the sun like the plague…take the peeps you are shooting out early in the morning or right before sunset—the lower the sun is to the horizon, the better the photos will be. Or better yet, check out the forecast & choose days that are “overcast” over those that Mr. Sun is supposed to show his face.

IMG_9340 cp


What if I HAVE to shoot in mid-day? Try to find a place of non-spotty shade. In other words, look for the shade of a building instead of the shade of a tree. Those little holes where the leaves don’t cover make shadows…which make your subjects look like they’ve contracted a rare strain of chicken pox or Brazilian Mole Virus (I totally just made that up…). Not pretty.


{this photo was taken under a tree...but because i waited until the clouds covered up the sun (we only had a few seconds to snap the shot!), no Brazilian Mole Virus showed up...}

Remember to place your subjects toward the edge of the shade & have them look UP. Remember what this will do?


{answer: make their eyes look ALIVE!...among other things…}

That little “pocket” of light that shows up in your subjects’ iris (i.e., the colored part of their eye) is called “Catch-Light”. And it is the treasure of photographing people. Without catch-light, your subjects look much less alive—their eyes take on a bland, almost lifeless appearance.

IMG_7547b cross orton


What if there is no shade AT ALL? Shoot into the sun. Yup. That is right! INTO THE SUN. you may not see faces as well…but you’d be surprised at just how much a silhouette can tell you. If you own a fancy schmancy camera, you can play with your manual settings to get a bit of sunflare. Also, turn your flash OFF for close-ups of people & things—you can steady your camera on the surface nearby…& turn ON your flash on for those fast-moving photos (especially with kids!)
day 4 lighting take into the sun
IMG_9383b cp blemish
What if I HAVE to shoot inside? The best lighting is found from windows, not electricity. More specifically, north or south facing windows tend to provide the best “filtered” light—you’ll avoid that direct bake-your-face sunlight that you get from east-west windows. Have your subject face the window…& put yourself between the subject & the window. (And DO NOT use a flash!). What you should end up with are photos with a sweet, “milky” light that is consistent enough to not create shadows.

day 4 lighting between the subject & window
day 4 lighting side lighting
day 4 lighting inside window lighting

If you don’t have the luxury of north-south windows, then close your blinds if the sun is out (as long as they aren’t black-out shades). This should provide ample light…should being the key word.

day 4 lighting inside close the curtains
{i miss this house of ours!...}

What if…? Well then make-do. You are a smart cookie (yumm…cookies…). Not all your photos will be award-winners. But using these & the other basic rules will get you decent photos—even some that are meaningful.

day 4 lighting inside spotlight
{this photo is a great example of using the light you have. it was taken at the dinner table on a cruise boat--i couldn't manipulate the lighting & didn't have enough light (or space) to move toward the window. so instead of putting my mom under the "spotlight" (where it would have accentuated those "bad" shadows), i chose to put her in the background & the plate in the foreground. also an example of focusing on the details, we can still see her in the background...& nothing is washed-out because i shut off my flash.}

day 4 lighting bokeh
{holiday bokeh}

Other resources: Finding the Light, Put the Light Behind You

This post is part of a photography series...
Day 1 {angle}
Day 2 {the golden rule}
Day 3 {composition}

1 comment:

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl said...

GREAT post...very complete. And lots of lovely examples, too!

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