Photography lighting tips for parents!

Now that the weather is finally starting to improve, it’s time to get out and about with your cameras! I’ve been offering beginners photography training in workshops and on a one to one basis for a few years now and I thought it would be helpful to write a blog post about light, with some helpful examples, using a very gorgeous model (yes, he’s mine). Please excuse his facial expressions, I’m not sure what he was doing. The main aim of this blog post is to explain about the different types of outdoor light and most importantly, noticing the direction it is coming from and the effect this can have on your image.

Yesterday evening, it was lovely and sunny in the garden, so I knew I could get some great examples, of what to do and what NOT to do, when you’re out and about.

The pictures below are what’s known in photography circles as SOOC (straight out of camera). This means that I haven’t edited them or changed anything at all. I’ve left them this way so that we can look at the light in the images and not worry about anything else.

First of all, I’ve taken a picture of my garden (please excuse the not very glamourous fuel tank in the background). I’ve taken this picture to show you that, outside, on a sunny day, you can see two types of light. Direct sunlight and open shade. If it’s a sunny day, then you’ll be able to see patches of open shade and patches of sunlight on the ground. In the photo, you can see that part of the garden is in direct sun and part is in shade (as the sun was setting behind the house). It’s useful to notice these different types of light, you’ll see why in a moment.

Photo of a boy with a ponytail standing in a garden

So, first of all, I’m going to put my subject in the bright sunshine. You might think this is a good idea, because it’s a sunny day and it’s nice and light. However, as soon as you do this, you’ll notice a problem. First of all, your subject will start squinting and possibly crying and start to cover their eyes. See exhibit A (I didn’t tell him to do that, it’s just what happens!):

Photo of a boy with hands on his face

Next, after you’ve shouted at your subject, you can try and get them to look at you, if only for a few seconds. The problem with this, is that they’ll be squinting and there will be some very harsh shadows on their face, eye sockets and under their chin.

Photo of a boy with a ponytailI then decided to save my son’s eyesight and place him in the patch of open shade, just a few inches to his right. In this light, he can look at the camera and there’s no harsh lines or contrast on his face. Better already!

Photo of a boy with a ponytail

So, open shade looks like a better bet in these conditions for getting a properly exposed image without causing pain and squinting to our subjects. It’s a win win. When you’re out with the kids and want to take a picture of them together or on their own. Have a look around to see if you can see some patches of open shade. They could be right next to where you’re standing, so it could be just a case of asking them to move over a little bit, so that you can take a picture without harsh shadows.

Now, anyone that’s been on one of my courses will have been introduced to the exposure compensation button – the little plus/minus square you can see on the back of your camera. I love seeing the reaction of students when they use this for the first time, because it can make such a difference to your images. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, maybe it’s time you signed up for some beginners training? Below you can see an example of the same image, but I’ve used the exposure compensation control to over expose the image (make it brighter). I may have overdone it a little bit, but you get the idea. He’s still standing in the same place, in the same light, but I’ve upped the exposure a little to make the image brighter.

Photo of a boy with a ponytail

Next, I asked him to stand with the sun hitting him from the side. As you can see, this is total no no. One side of his face is too bright and the other side of his face is dark. There’s lots of shadows and the whole image looks terrible. Please bear in mind, that although it’s very easy to see the problem looking at this image, when you’re out with the kids and there’s lots of distractions, it’s very easy to overlook this sort of thing and snap away, only to realise what you’ve done later on. Side light can be very harsh and something you should look out for.

Photo of a boy with a ponytail

What do you do if there is no open shade? Sometimes, you might be in the middle of a field or on the beach and there’s no open shade available. You don’t want the sun shining directly into your subjects eyes. You don’t want the sun hitting them from the side, so what else can you do? You can put the sun BEHIND your subject. I’m not saying this is going to be a breeze, as there’s problems associated with doing this, but sometimes you’ll have no choice. The problems for you will be that the sun is now shining directly in YOUR face and consequently down your lens – this can cause something called lens flare (little blobs of light that go across your image) and can also cause your images to look a little ‘hazy’. It all depends on where the sun is in the sky – the lower the better – as it will be less harsh. Here’s an example of my son with the sun behind him (not sure why he’s pulling that face). All in all, not too bad, there’s some very light patches around his hair but I can see his face properly.

Photo of a boy with a ponytail

When using backlight, sometimes your subject can look a little dark and the background too light (especially if it’s the sky) so I’ve over exposed this image a little bit, to show you the difference it can make. The light parts of the image have gone lighter (his hair is now very bright) but his face is also lighter.

Photo of a boy with a ponytail

To conclude, it is really important to start to notice the light, particularly what direction it’s coming from. Even on a cloudy day, the direction of the sunlight will make a difference to your images. Photographers love a nice soft light, which happens first thing in the morning (I’m talking sunrise here) or as the sun is setting. At these times, known as Golden Hour, the light is softer and shadows less harsh. For parents with little ones, golden hour is probably not the best time of day at all for taking photos, so it’s handy to know some quick tips about using open shade and backlight instead. There’s lots more to learn about light of course but I thought this little taster lesson might come in handy!

I’d love to see some examples of your images – why not share on my Facebook page. Have you taken a great backlit image, or can you show an example of terrible side light, that you didn’t notice at the time?

Want to learn more about photography? I offer a selection of workshops for adults and teenagers as well as one to one training. See my training pages for more information.

 

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