Photography is all about playing with light. In fact, the word “photography” comes from the Greek word “φωτός” (phōtós), which literally means “drawing with light”. Whether you love shooting portraits of your partner at home or your kids while you’re travelling, these handy tips will help you use light to your advantage and make your photos really pop!
Make the Most of Natural Light
You may see the pros with they’re fancy studio lighting setups and off-camera flashes and assume that that’s the way to get beautiful photographs. But in reality there’s no better form of light than natural light. Start to strengthen your understanding of how natural light changes throughout the day, as the sun moves position in the sky. Also observe how it changes with the weather, with bright sunny days bringing harsh lighting and strong shadows to the soft, diffused light associated with cloudy or overcast days.
Move with the Light
Perhaps you like shooting family portraits in your house or street photos during your travels. Either way, you should always be aware of the lighting conditions and be ready to move to seek the best of it. Maybe your front garden is the perfect place for puppy portraits in the morning, whereas you might get better light in the back garden in the evening (or vice versa). The same applies while you’re travelling. Want to shoot the Statue of Liberty in NYC? Time your visit so that the light is hitting it from the front (ir be prepared to shoot high-contrast silhouettes shots if you go while it’s being backlit.
Shoot During the “Golden Hours”
Ask any photographer what time they prefer to shoot and you’ll often get the same answer: “During golden hour!”. The first golden hour of the day is the hour leading up to sunrise, and the second is the hour or so after sunset. Also referred to as “magic hour”, these are the times of day with the sun is at its lowest in the sky, providing warm and soft light that makes for stunning landscapes and portraits.
Embrace Midday Shadows and “Bad Light”
The harsh light of midday is not necessarily the most flattering for portraits, but it can cast some really interesting shadows that will help you create interesting geometric shapes and 3D-like images. Love shooting silhouettes? This is the perfect lighting! Embrace high contrast scenes by placing your subject in direct light and moving your camera position until their shadows become interesting subjects in their own right. Shooting a family get-together in the garden? Why not get a family member to stand under a tree so that you can shoot artistic portraits with shadows of leaves over their face. Photographing your kids on your city break escape? Place your little adventurer in the centre of your frame and position your camera so that their shadows stretch out into the city streets before you. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad light – it’s simply a case of working with it in a creative way.
Improve Your Indoor Photography
Hosting a party at home? Create stunning indoor portraits and group shots by moving your subjects close to a window. As mentioned in the first tip, natural light is always the best light. Think of it as a big, natural indoor light source. If it’s too strong, simply pull your curtains or blinds together a little bit to control and shape the amount of light that hits your subject/s. For next level indoor photography, also try turning off any lights, as most tungsten light bulbs are a different colour temperature to natural light, which can confuse your camera’s white balance.
Make Your Own Light Reflectors
Whether you’re shooting family shots at a BBQ or kiddy portraits in the kitchen, having a light reflector will help you bounce light onto your subject and control your available light. And the best part is that you can make one for free! Simply wrap a large piece of cardboard in tinfoil or peg up a large white bedsheet and you’re good to go. You could even use a white painted wall if it’s reflecting nice light off it. Let your light source – a window if your shooting indoors or the sun if you’re outside – hit the reflector and position it so that it bounces onto your subject. This is a fantastic way to shoot portraits in harsh light, as you can place your subject in the shade and then bounce a nice soft and warm light onto them from the reflector.
Get Familiar with the Core Lighting Techniques
Whether you’re using natural light or artificial light, your phone or a DSLR, you can achieve a wide variety of looks by playing around with your subject’s position in relation to the direction of light.
You might choose to use side lighting, with your light source at 90-degrees of your subject. This technique produces dramatic shadows on half of the face, making it perfect for fun superhero shots with your kids! An extension of this would be rim lighting, or back lighting as it’s also known, where your subject is placed directly between the light source and your camera) to create a beautiful halo effect. This is a gorgeous lighting setup for moody beauty shots of couples, friends and loved ones.
High Key Lighting
High key lighting provides a soft and dreamy low-contrast look that’s perfect for creating flattering portraits that your subjects will love. This look is achieved by using a larger light source (such as a large light with a softbox or diffuser) and placing your subject farther away from it. You can also use a large window or even a skylight to achieve this look – just remember to place your subject a little further away from it.
Low Key Lighting
Low key lighting is moody and dramatic and is often referred to as Rembrandt lighting, due to the artist’s frequent use of it. It’s ideal for everything from still lifes and home cooking photography to group shots and family portraits. To get the look, simply position your subject close to a small window (or small light). If you only have a large window then simply pull the curtains closed a little bit to control and shape the light. Complete the look by positioning your illuminated subject in front of a dark background to get a high-contrast look that could be on a Hollywood movie poster.
Use Your House Lights as Photography Lights
You don’t need to go out and spend money on photographing lighting gear to turn your home into a studio. Simply use your favourite table lamps and/or wall lights – anything with a hooded shade should work if positioned carefully. Colourful LED lights can also be used to create atmospheres and creative looks. Avoid overhead ceiling lights, as these can cast strong shadows over your subject’s face, and be sure to shine your light through a white bed to soften and diffuse it if it is too bright, or use cardboard-and-tinfoil reflector to fill in any unwanted shadows.