Let the Light In | Becoming a Family Historian Lesson 4

Now that we’ve covered and practiced compositional techniques, let’s take a look at lighting. Photography is often called “painting with light” and light can have a dramatic impact on an image.

My favorite images are often taken in natural light - either outdoors or indoors using window light. You may think about me saying this if you ever find yourself in my home. When we were building it, I made sure to add lots of windows and none of them have any blinds on them, haha. (We do have curtains to make the room look complete and make sure we can block light if needed.) Regardless of the photography benefits, I love a room filled with sunlight.

Here are a few tips and ways that you can use light in your photos:

Find the Natural Light

Natural light will often provide you with the truest colors and help you avoid that yellow glow of reflection on foreheads from that artificial overhead light. Try finding natural light sources by:

  • Opening up the blinds and curtains.

  • Watching for pockets of light in your home as the sun rises or sets.

  • If the sunlight is too bright, look for shady areas outdoors or ways to filter the incoming light with white curtain sheers.

Pocket of light between window and couch.
Pocket of light between window and couch.

Directional Light: Outdoors

When taking images outdoors, I often try to make sure that the sun is placed behind my subject. It doesn’t need to be literally directly behind them, but having the sun at some angle toward their back helps to ensure that there is no squinting.

If the sun is overpowering the image and making your subject too dark, you can either embrace it and take a creative silhouette, or you can shift so that the sun is entering more from the side and illuminating both the background and your subject.

When the sun is directly overhead and casting shadows on the face, consider looking for shade or taking a “faceless” photo. Faceless photos can be done where the subject is looking away from the camera or by using creative perspectives such as shooting from above, cropping, etc.

But, sometimes circumstances call for breaking the rules. If you are outside on an overcast day, you may need turn your subject so that the sun (which is likely behind clouds) is in front of them to avoid shadows on the face. If you’re having a hard time figuring out which direction the light is coming from, simply stand with your subject and turn in a circle until you find where their face is illuminated well.

Sun to the left side. This allows for faces to be illuminated without squinty eyes.
We were in a shady area with a bright background, so I chose to use silhouette for this image.
Sometimes, you just have to make your own shade. Get creative!
Focusing on perspective and details is helpful when you are struggling with full sun.

Directional Light: Indoors

When shooting indoors, you can also play with silhouettes by keeping your light source directly behind your subject.

Most often, I find that I enjoy having my light source at a 45-90 degree angle from my subject. When doing this, you’ll often notice an area of light and shadows falling on the face that bring interest to the viewers eye.

If you feel that the light coming into your image is not quite enough, try moving your subject closer to the light source. You’ll notice some of my images are taken very close to windows - many of those images were captured on a more overcast day.

Dreary days may call for snuggling up to that light source.
Setting up play activities by the window can help ensure there is light for your images.
The highlights and shadows created by the window on the left side give this image more of a storytelling feel.

Lens Flare

A lens flare occurs when the sun is shining directly into your lens. Capturing lens flare adds an interesting artistic flair to your image. To do this, you’ll likely want to shoot as the sun is rising or setting so that it naturally falls in the background of your scene. Sometimes you can get a flare coming from the side of your image, but the easiest way is likely to place your subject (or a tree or building) directly between you and the sun, so that the sun is blocked, and then shifting your position so that the sun just peeks around the edge of whatever is blocking it.

Challenge: This week take an image using light creatively. Try shooting in various types of light and see which ones you are more naturally drawn to.

Don't forget to tag me when you post your images!