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.


Beginner Photography Workshops in the Vale of Glamorgan

"Thoroughly enjoyable and informative camera workshop. Feel like I've learnt a lot." Kirsten

"I now know so much about my camera and things to think about when taking photos. Thank you so much, very enjoyable" Jill

"Pitched just right and had fun. Learnt a lot and feel much more confident." Rachel

"Thank you Gemma, feel much more positive about using my precious camera. Excellent." Menna

Wow! What a busy weekend! On Saturday I held my Young Photographers Workshop with a bunch of very enthusiastic teenagers. They were up trees, down slides, hanging over walls and crawling around on the floor to get the perfect shot. I've had such a lot of interest from teenagers than I'm now offering an intermediate workshop for those that want to learn more technical skills. Keep your eyes peeled on my Training pages and Facebook page for more information on dates.

Then it was the turn of the adults and I held a fab Beginners Photography Workshop at my house in Colwinston. The weather was against us, but we didn't let it stop us and managed to practise all our technical skills in my conservatory instead of getting soaked. No chance of a group photo with this group though due to the downpour the minute we stepped outside! There was a fabulous group dynamic and I absolutely loved watching everyone helping each other and discussing all things photography. There were plenty of light bulb moments too - I love seeing the reaction from participants when they see the results they can get from taking control of their cameras.

There was some interest in learning some basic Photoshop skills, so I'll be offering some small (max 2 people) sessions to help people get going with Photoshop. Keep your eyes peeled on my website and social media platforms for more info. Also, don't forget that you can sign up to my newsletter to keep in touch and find out about my latest offers, competitions, workshops and pop up mini sessions. You can sign up by going to my homepage - scroll down to the bottom and pop your email address in the sign up box.

In the meantime, here's some budding photographers in action in and around Colwinston....

Gem x

Girl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkBoy taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkboy taking a photo in a park ColwinstonPhotography workshop CowbridgeGirl taking a photo in a parkBoy taking a photo in a park ColwinstonGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkGirl taking a photo in a parkYoung Photographers Workshop with Gemma Griffiths Photography Group PhotoMan taking photo on photography training courseWoman taking photo on photography training courseWoman taking photo on photography training courseWoman taking photo on photography training course

Christmas Photo Guide

A little Christmas Photo Guide to help you through the restive season.

Unless you’re a cross between Kirstie Allsopp and Anthea Turner, I’m guessing that you have other priorities (running around like a headless chicken and shouting at the kids) on Christmas day other than taking a perfect set of photos. Once the day arrives and starts to unfold you’ll want to enjoy the moments (after all you've spent the last few weeks preparing for it!), instead of faffing around with your camera. But, the day can pass you by in the blink of an eye and if you haven’t taken any pictures then you can’t smugly look back on them and remind yourself what a wonderful mother/father/host/guest you are. And, of course, you’ll need something to post on Instagram and Facebook won’t you?!

So, here’s a few tips for you to get camera ready for the big day.

Before we get started I want to get this out of the way…my guilty secret…I use my phone to take photos over the holidays. I’m sorry, but there it is. Photography for me, at times like this, is not about using the best kit, it's about capturing the moments and I honestly don’t mind if the quality of the final image isn't as good as my professional work because each picture will remind me of how I felt at the time – a visual prompt if you will – to something deeper.

As a photographer, if I got my camera out, I’d spend most of the time stressing about the light (or lack of), worrying about the grain (from a high ISO) and shouting at the children to KEEP STILL. So, over the holidays, I take off my photographer hat and put on my Mummy one instead.

I won’t be winning any awards with my phone pictures, but they will all go in our yearly family album and I'll love them. So there. 

If you have a camera and want to use it on the big day, then go for it. If you’ve had one too many buck fizzes and only have your phone to hand, then that’s fine too.

Here’s my handy Christmas photo guide for your camera or phone!

Follow me on Instagram to see my latest work.


Christmas photo advice Be prepared

Christmas day goes by so quickly, one minute you’re being dragged out of bed at some unearthly hour by your kids and the next your watching the Strictly Christmas Special. So, it’s worth thinking about the photos that you’d like to take in advance of the day. Make sure your battery is charged and your memory card is empty.

If you are going to use your DSLR – take some test shots the day before, set your white balance and your ISO. Work out if you want to use your fully automatic settings or if you’d prefer to use Aperture Priority.

If you’re using your phone - make sure it’s charged and that you have space on it. Plan where you will need to sit or stand to take the pictures and leave your phone there, so you can grab it when you walk in the room.

Gift opening

The first shots of the day are the most important (I think) – opening the pressies! Unless you have complete sleeping angels, you’re likely to be opening presents when it’s dark outside, so set your camera the day before to cope with the light in the room.

Put your camera on continuous mode to make sure that you get all the expressions – anticipation, awe, delight and hopefully not disappointment! Phone users – keep pressing the button over and over again. You can delete the ones that you don’t like afterwards.

Photography tips for ChristmasFocus

In the heat of the moment, it’s very easy to get a bit over excited and lose your focus (I mean literally), so take a deep breath and keep still, make sure that you're focussing on your subject to avoid motion blur and camera shake. If you're using your phone, press on the screen to show where you'd like the focus to be and wait until it locks on before taking the photo.


Think about what you’d like the image to look like. Make sure you have a point of interest and that you’re focussing on them or it. Look around and make sure there’s nothing too distracting in the background. Can you zoom in, or move closer to eliminate fussy backgrounds?

Think about where you are – are you looming over your subject? If so, get down to their level. If you’re photographing a child, get down on the floor to capture them at their level. ‘The Loom’ is probably the worst angle you can go for, so move around and see if you can improve your composition.

Don’t be afraid to take close up portraits – the Christmas tree doesn’t need to be in every shot.

Christmas day photo tipsGroup pictures

In my experience, you have a very small window to take large group portraits. As soon as everyone starts snaffling the sherry/baileys/Prosecco and eating the Quality Street you’ve lost your audience. If you want a group photo then grab everyone early doors. Work out where you’d like to take the picture and do it quickly. If you can get everyone outside, great, if not, try and use the lightest area in the house. The same rule goes for smaller group photos – if you want to get cousins together, or grandchildren etc, do it early before the sugar rush and subsequent sugar slump sets in.

Camera users – think about your aperture and depth of field – make sure you put it higher for group photos to make sure you get everyone in focus.


What’s important to you? Have you spent the last 3 months planning your table decorations – if so, make sure you’ve captured them. Does the food look amazing? Take a low shot across the table before everyone tucks in so you can see the spread. Don’t forget the ‘looking down’ shot onto plates of mince pies or smoked salmon blini’s. I’m winging it here because, as anyone that knows me will tell you, I’m a rubbish cook and buy as much pre-prepared stuff from M & S as I can and dump it on a plate.

Is your tree beautifully decorated – take some close ups etc.

Christmas photography adviceCandid images

If you’re like me, it’s the candid images that will mean the most in years to come. Yes, it’s nice to squash all the cousins together awkwardly in front of the tree or force the kids to smile nicely at you, but sometimes, it’s nicer to just grab candid shots throughout the day. My favourite from last year is my son doing a handstand in his pants on his new gym mat whilst my daughter is glued to You Tube on her phone in the background. It basically says it all. I won’t post that one in this blog.

Look for special moments – are grandparents playing with the kids and helping them work out their new toys? Is anyone genuinely laughing at the jokes from the cracker? Has someone snuck into the kitchen to secretly eat chocolate whilst no one is looking (just me?)?

Get in the photo

Last but not least is the most important rule of all. Make sure YOU are in the photos. Yes, I don’t care if you’ve eaten too many mince pies in the weeks leading up to Christmas or you’re having a bad hair day and neither does anyone else. Get in those pictures.

Make sure your partner, kids, parents take the camera off you and take some of you as well. Use the timer on the camera if you need to but please make sure that you don’t end up with a set of images missing a very important part of the family.

I hope this has been a helpful Christmas photo guide. Drop me a line if you have any questions!

Gemma Griffiths is a family photographer, based in the Vale of Glamorgan, near Cowbridge in South Wales.

Book a shoot today!