Today we continue our series on how to take better pictures with the camera you already own. We learned last week about some super simple composition tricks you can use to make a huge impact on your photography skills. Today we will talk about what any photographer will tell you is the key to a great picture, utilizing light!
Since simplistically speaking, a camera is just taking the light bouncing off its sensor and recording it as an image, so it makes total sense that light plays a huge roll in how our pictures turn out! If we own the light we can take control of how our pictures turn out!
When I say light I don’t mean the flash. Although the built in flash can help us capture snapshots in low light, pretty much without exception you will be much happier with your photos if you can try to take your pictures with ample natural light.
I always knew that you needed light to get pictures, so when I started out (and I mean day 1 with my camera) I thought that meant the more light the better! So I packed up my baby and my camera and went to the park about 3 pm and thought, look at all this bright light! This will be great! What I ended up with was super shadowy pictures with parts so bright they lost all details. My baby was still as cute as always in my eyes, but the quality of the pictures was really poor!
Although, in some respects the more light the better is true, that absolutely does not mean you want to be in full and direct sunlight. The optimal situation is actually the opposite. Direct sunlight makes harsh shadows on your subject that usually are not the look you are going for in the image. Also, you will get tiny little squinting eyes instead of big beautiful wide open and sparkling eyes you love to see in a photo.
So how do we find great light? The best kind of light for photography is what we call diffused light or indirect light on the subject. This is pretty easy to find! To start off, you get this light two times every day at sunrise and sunset. Photographer’s often refer to the light at this time as magic light because the sun is low enough that it isn’t producing shadows but still provides enough light to create a beautiful glow on faces and catch lights (that sparkle) in the eyes. If I can help it I will always do my photo shoots with my kids in the 45 minutes before sunset.
Sometimes there is no way around it, middle of the day is just when we have to take pictures and we have some strategies for that too. The best thing you can do is to find a place to take your photos with open shade. That just means that your subject is completely shaded area like under a tree or in the shade of a wall. If you can’t find open shade the next best thing you can do is to turn your subject so that their head provides shade to their face. Usually, this will mean their back will be to the sun. This allows you to avoid the harsh shadows and squinting as much as possible. Also, you might just get lucky and have a cloud go by and block the sun. This also creates the most beautiful diffused light, but unfortunately can’t be predicted unless the clouds stick around all day!
Now let’s talk about indoor photography. One of the things that constantly frustrated me with my point and shoot was that in at least one out of every three pictures I took, some part of my kids were blurry. What I didn’t understand was that the less light is available, the slower my shutter speed would be. When a shutter is at its higher speeds it is so fast that it capture your kids perfectly no matter how fast they are moving. At lower speeds though, if you child is moving even a little (and when does that not happen?) it will probably appear as blur on your picture.
The camera’s automatic solution to this is to fire the flash to give more light. The built in flash often makes weird shadows on your images, can put glare spots on skin, as well as illuminates the close objects a lot but many times will not reach the background, which means you will have your super bright subject in what I call a black hole. Obviously not desirable. So if you are trying to take a picture when you are inside your house try moving to the brightest place in your home. You will want to find a room with windows but avoid placing your subject in any spot that has a bright square of light shining through the window and aim for places that are evenly lit. Your camera will have more light so that it can use a faster shutter speed, avoiding blur, and not have to use its flash.
The last tip I have for you on light is how to position your subject. When possible it is best to have your subject facing the light source. This means toward the sun or window. Even if the sun is hiding behind the horizon, or clouds, the light is coming from that direction so you will get the beautiful glow on the face and the catch lights in the eyes. The sparkles in the eyes below are called catch lights in the photography world. They make the eyes seem alive. Photographers know that catch lights are a must and now you know how easy it is to get them too!
Light is one of the most important and complex topics in photography. We went over some basic tips and an overview of some easy ways you can use light to get better pictures. Make sure and stay tuned for the remainder of our series on taking great pictures with the camera you already own. Follow us on Facebook to get updates and Pinterest to see all of the great photography ideas we pin!
Will these tips on light help you take better pictures of your family? What other questions do you have on light?