(Sorry. But I think y’all know by now that I have a macabre sense of humor.)
One of the aspects of photography that I love is that there are very few, if any, hard and fast rules. And when it comes right down to it, if you like your pictures (or, if you’re a professional, if your clients are pleased), then that’s really all that matters. But here’s a super easy fix for a very common problem. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using the most basic point-and-shoot or the fanciest DSLR money can buy, learning to find the light will improve your photography by leaps and bounds, and you don’t have to do anything more complicated than look around and move your subject.
First, consider the time of day. “The Golden Hour” is the photographer’s best friend. It depends a little on where you live, but generally, the best light happens around sunrise and sunset (there are Golden Hour calculators online that can help you determine when it takes place in your part of the world). Personally, because I’m not much of a morning person, I like to start shooting a couple of hours before sunset. That gorgeous golden light is fleeting, but when you catch it, it gives your photos a dreamy, magical quality that’s hard to achieve at any other time.
As I said, there are exceptions to every rule, but noon is rarely a good time to take photos. Having the sun directly overhead casts harsh shadows that are difficult to work with. However, you can overcome this impediment by finding a nice big patch of shade. A lot of people are tempted to think that cloudy days stink for picture-taking, but au contraire! The clouds act as a giant light diffuser, and you can shoot almost anywhere without having to worry too much about ugly shadows on your subject.
If you’re shooting inside, however, the brighter the better. But one mistake I see people make often is to position their subject near a light source (e.g., a window), but then turn their back to it. This results in the subject being backlit so that his or her face is very dark. Or they put him or her underneath an overhead light, which casts unflattering shadows down onto the face. Their instincts are correct – get near a light source! – but the results they’re getting aren’t what they want. The solution, though, is easy: Let your subject FACE the light.
Let me show you a couple of examples. These photos are from my recent Easter mini-sessions.
In this first photo of Emma, the light sources, a glass door and a window, are on her right (and one is slightly behind her). That’s fine, but her face is turned away from them. It’s still a good photograph, but you can see there’s a shadow on the left side of her face and, more importantly, a pretty big shadow under the dominant eye.
This condition is called half-lighting, and it certain situations, it’s very effective. But with babies and children, in particular, you usually want the softer look created by using MORE light in order to match your subject matter.
Now look what happens when I turn her face toward one of the light sources:
You can see here that the light has sort of “filled out” her little face, given her skin a glow and made her eyes sparkle. It’s the difference between her looking like a pretty little girl and her unleashing her inner Disney princess.
And I didn’t whip out a fancier camera, change lenses, add a flash OR use a reflector – I just turned her toward the light!
Got a photography question? Email me!