Tips & Tricks! Catching the light! How to improve your photographs with better lighting!

I don’t believe there is anything more important in a photograph than the light that was used to create it.  I’ll say it again…. there is nothing more important than light when creating a wonderful photograph.  Stop and think… you can have a fabulous moment that is destroyed because the photo was too dark, too bright, or too streaky.  If you cannot see those fabulous expressions, or you are distracted by strange shadows, what exactly is the point in creating that photograph?  Light can make the difference between a FABULOUS photograph and one the is just… ho hum.  In this blog post I plan to show you the difference and give you pointers for finding fabulous light.

My Number 1 tip for creating fabulous photographs is this…. TURN OFF THE FLASH!

The flash of a camera can make subjects look strangely ghost like.  It can make the person you are photographing bright white and the background almost pitch black. Camera flash can also create strange and unnatural shadows in your photograph. It can make people blink, give them red eye, and distract them from the moment you wanted to capture.  Seriously, who LIKES having a flash poofed in their face over and over?  Why do camera flashes create such results?  Because the are very small and pretty strong sources of light.  Here is something to remember.  The smaller the light source, the more harsh it’ll be and it will result in strong, unnatural, and unflattering shadows.

Let me show you an example.  This is a photo of my son I took back in 2006 when he was just 4 months old.  I took it with a standard point and shoot camera with your typical built in flash.  Do you see how bright he is compared to the background?  Do you see that odd shadow behind his head?  This just isn’t the best representation of real life.  While I love this photo because it is my memory of my baby boy is who now a whopping 5 years old.  Any photo is better than no photo but there are things I could have done to make it even better.

Catch the Light!

If you are not going to use flash for a light source you are going to have to find another source of light.  My ultimate favorite choice is natural outdoor light.  Given the chance I’ll photograph outdoors every time.  Outdoor light can be absolutely gorgeous.  But let’s think about this for a moment.  Yes, outdoor light can be gorgeous, but outdoor sunlight might not give you any truly different results.  Why?  Because the sun is also a very small source of light that will also create harsh unflattering shadows and squinty eyes.  Let me show you!

This is a photo from a wedding I was in back in 2006.  It was a very sunny day and the wedding was midday.  Notice the harsh shadows under eyes and in our faces.  Not the prettiest of photos is it?

What do you do?  The flash stinks, bright sunlight stinks, what’s left?  PLENTY! My tricks for catching great natural light are the same for both indoors and outdoors.  FIRST, turn your subject toward the light.  If the light is coming from a window or one portion of the sky have them face in that direction.  It’ll create very pretty light in their eyes and illuminate their faces in a very pleasing way.

If you are indoors, bring your subject close to a window that does not have sun directly pouring into it.  If it is a decently bright day, the light pouring is will be gorgeous!  Here is an example.

This is a photo I took of my husband in my hospital room the day we brought our daughter home.  I LOVE this photo!  Why?  Well first it sure is a special moment I will treasure forever.  But look at the light on his face and in his eyes!  I simply had him turn toward the big window.  It was a sunny day, sunlight was hitting the bright roof and building just outside the window and reflecting back into our room.  PERFECT.  BEAUTIFUL!  I could set up a studio in that room!

And I can’t resist sharing this one too.  I took this photo in my living room!  It was early morning and the sun was pouring through one window.  The direct sunlight would have been too harsh so I closed the blinds to soften the light perfectly.  There was a bit more light coming in through a window on the right that just filled any possible shadows.  I hung a white sheet behind her and poof.  I had the perfect setup in just moments.  You can actually see the beautiful light shining in her eyes.  I did have to clone some wrinkles out of the sheet after the fact in photoshop.  But that was easy!

Great!  You can get great light indoors.  What if I’m outdoors? How do I avoid those harsh shadows?  Pretty much the same way.  Find a shaded area to put your subject in.  The light will reflect off of the ground and objects around the shaded area right onto your subject and light them beautifully.

Take a look at this photo of a beautiful bride I had the opportunity to photograph just this week.  She was sitting on a park bench in front of a hotel on a very sunny day.  I had her under the overhang of the hotel so she was shaded.  Sunlight was hitting the sidewalk just in front of her and reflecting right back at her.  She was perfectly lit and I was jumping for joy inside. No harsh shadows, not squinting, just perfection.

Now I know there are times when the use of flash is just unavoidable.  Trust me, I find myself in dark places all of the time.  Next week I will talk about how to make the best use of your flash and what to do to turn down some of the harshness.

Thanks for reading!  I hope you all are having a fantastic week!

ps.  Feel free to leave questions in the comment box and I’ll be sure to answer them!