Every time I talk about light I break into song. I can’t help it. I just broke into my off pitch rendition of “Blinded by the light”. My family adores this about me let me tell you. But before you get the song stuck in your head, let’s move on to my favorite suggestions for getting more comfortable with light, or getting stronger use of light in your images.
Wait, I know I just said this blog was about getting comfortable. But if you can grab your camera and immediately know what to do, how to do it and what it will look like. You’re not doing anything new. Challenge yourself. Add something to your arsenal. If you can handle your basic light options that well, get more advanced. If you can handle advanced shooting conditions that well, get creative. Or sure as hell don’t come looking to this blog for more tips because I can say with absolute certainty I am uncomfortable a lot. I am still learning every single day. And I learn more from my failures than my successes. And sometimes the good shot comes from someone else’s discomfort. The shot pictured above was taken just after sunset, the light was from the headlights as my husband was stretching after a run. I had just loaded the kids into the car and decided to give it a go not knowing just how it would turn out.
Light hasn’t committed a crime. It certainly didn’t steal the last krispie kreme donut, which I’ll have you know is a crime in this house. You can shoot stellar images at any time of day. If you’re afraid of the mid day sun you will not only miss out on some events that will naturally occur during that time of the day, but also miss out on some neat effects that occur with bright sun and blue skies. If you’re afraid of low light, you will be missing out on some moody and emotional images that can occur at any time of day or night especially in the corners of your home. Learn the characteristics and know how to work them to your advantage. Embrace the shadows! Push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
There are many types of light, knowing what they are will give you a great start in spotting them and using them! They can affect an image so much by giving depth, drama, mood, interest, and so much more. The different types of light occur at different times of the day or at different angles. And you can find more than one at a time! You can shoot in full sun, get some sun flare, grab some open shade, and some dappled light all in one go. Get out there and explore light! Learn as many kinds as you can. Naming just a few: soft, hard, directional, spot, diffuse, flat, silhouette, golden hour, twilight, rim, artificial, but there are many, many more!
They say mad dogs and Englishmen are the only ones in the midday sun, but that is false– especially if you live in the south and find it unavoidable. Flat light is flattering and definitely easier to shoot in, but if you fear the sun you won’t push past it. Noon light is difficult to work with, but if you practice you will find ways to befriend it. Try backing up from your subject. Try shooting your subject from the side, or from behind so you don’t have to see the harsher sun on their face. You want quintessential summer images with puffy clouds or big blue skies—up your full sun game! Also, if it takes you awhile to get out the door you may find that a lot of your family activities will take place in these hours. Get creative with it!
The most important part about discovering new light is to increase your awareness of it. Look around; study the light as it changes from person, place, time, and angle! Look where the source is, the angle of the subject, note the position, the time of day. Be looking for it! Watch how highlights and shadows change. And most importantly PLAY WITH IT. Maybe it will end up in the recycle bin. Maybe you will discover some new tricks to keep in your back pocket.
Move your hiney around! I know that the light in my bedroom is warmer than the light in my office. Some has to do with the direction that side of the house is facing, some has to do with the paint colors on the wall. I know what times of day the sun is most bright in each room. Try shooting in different places and watch what happens. Play with the direct and indirect light. Crank your ISO. Your house is a playground. And don’t give me the rubbish that your house isn’t clean. Get in there, get close, get far, shoot angles, kick stuff to a corner.
Light is a funny thing. It changes through seasons, through the solstices as it increases and decreases. And there are always hours where there is no natural light. Your light will come from another source. Or from really long exposures. Some of my most favorite images are from sunrise. You won’t find me up at that hour often, but the light is so pretty. On a late night walk to the gas station (to grab tums for raging pregnancy induced heartburn) I grabbed my camera. We stopped to check out our friendly neighborhood cows and I loved it. My best photos? No, not in the least. But a moment captured because I could and did. Try taking photos during different times of the day, note where the shade is on which side of your house, or in your neighborhood. Check your images and try again the next day!
Move your subject in a 360! Look for the way the mood of the light changes. Find those shadows and highlights. See how the angles change. Play with the side light. The rim light above would only have been seen from this angle. Every other shot would have looked entirely different.
First let me note I am not saying you should find a great photograph, recreate it and post it. I am saying to find other photographers that have a great use of lighting and dissect what it is that makes that lighting great. Read a new book—there are dozens of free kindle books on amazon. There are used bookstores all over the world, online and likely in your town. Go explore! Find someone new. Find someone that inspires you. And then go out and be your best version of you that you can be.
Not every photo will turn out. And that’s OK. Remember to cut yourself some slack. Whether you’re new, or more advanced, not every photo will make a portfolio worthy image. I truly believe my motto for photography is, “if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong”. Remember why you started this, or why you keep at it. Practice. But also know when to hang up the camera and just be an observer.