Photography is literally, “light writing,” so when talking about photography it’s absolutely essential to talk about light. When you’re taking pictures of people, it doesn’t matter what camera you have in your hand if you’re unsure about what light will make them look good. So to kick this series off, I’m going to start with a few tips for locating and then placing your subject in the most flattering light available no matter where (or when) you’re shooting. For context, these pictures were taken on our patio at about 1:30 in the afternoon. The sun was high and bright…not a cloud in the sky. Definitely not perfect for pictures, but perfect for this exercise. The image below shows you that most of the patio was in full sunlight.
Tip #1 – SHADE – find it!
In the image on the left, Pax was sitting in the middle of the patio with the sun beating down on him. Shadows, blown out highlights…his expression sums it up. All I did was move him a few feet over to the wall and put him in the little bit of shade available. Suddenly his face was evenly lit, his skin looked better…heck even his expression improved. Easy fix – get ’em out of the bright sun.
One more demonstration of this just for emphasis. I literally moved him a few inches and changed the picture dramatically. On the left, full sun. In the middle…well, again his face sums it up. Just don’t put ’em in the middle of a shadow. On the right, beautiful even shade.
Tip #2 – ANGLE TO THE SUN
In the image on the left, Pax was looking into the sun. Because the sun was high, it created dark shadows under his eyes, under his chin, and on the lower part of his face. Not attractive. In the middle image, the sun was hitting his face on the side. This looks a little better than the first, but still full of harsh shadows. In the third image on the right, I turned him around so that the sun was behind him. The shadows on his face are gone and now he has some nice light in his hair. Much more pleasing to the eye. He is standing in the same spot in all three of these images. All I did was turn his body to change where the sun hit him. Again, an easy fix – get the bright sun out of their faces.
Tip #3 – NATURAL REFLECTORS
You’ve probably seen photographers carrying around those large white or shiny discs that they use to bounce light back on their subjects. Yes, they work and they work well. However, you don’t have to have one to get a similar effect. There are a lot of objects around that can reflect light for you, you just have to look for them. On my patio, I had a bright white wall that was bouncing sunlight right back into Pax’s face. I stood him in front of it so the sunlight stayed relatively behind him and then bounced off the wall to brighten up his face.
For comparison, I moved him over and did the same thing in front of the dark window where no light was bouncing back.
The difference is somewhat subtle, but compare them side by side and you can see how much brighter his face is on the left with the reflector working. Also notice how the dark shadows under his eyes and chin are softened up by the white wall in the picture on the left. Experiment with this. Light will bounce off the floor, the sand, the wall. You’ll be surprised how much it can change the look of your photos 🙂
Tip #4 – WINDOW LIGHT
This is one of my personal faves. Window light is delicious. Try it, you might like it. Pax is sitting in front of the window looking out on the brightly lit patio. Remember the reflector in Tip #3? In this set up, the ground is reflecting a ton of light back in and lighting up his face. You can’t go wrong.
I love how his eyes look in the one on the left. All that light is just making them sparkle.
Tip #5 – THE GOLDEN HOUR
Maybe you’ve heard of it…it’s the first and last hour of daylight and it’s a photographer’s favorite time of day. The sun is low on the horizon, filtering through the trees, and everything just has a gorgeous glow. Remember that when you’re taking pictures you’re “writing with light,” right? Well, during these hours, let’s just say the writing tends to flow eloquently off the page. In the images below, Pax is sitting right in the middle of that patio just like he was up top, but it was an hour before sunset. I could turn him in any direction and put him just about anywhere and not take a bad picture. If you want it easy, take their picture during the golden hour. Heck, if your kids get up as early as mine, you’ll get two chances every day 🙂
Okay, now you’re armed with knowledge. Go on already, give it a go! Go chase after the prettiest light you can find 🙂
One more thing. If you’re shooting with your camera in Auto Mode or Program Mode, you may find some of these shots in harsh sunlight hard to get without turning your subjects into black silhouettes or turning the background completely white (also called “blowing it out”). In future posts, I’ll talk about how to fix this by (gasp!) leaving those automatic modes behind. Be sure to sign up and get more goodness delivered straight to your inbox.