Momtographer Monday: The Importance of Light

December 26, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I struggled a bit with what topic to start with for this series, but I decided that I wanted to start with possibly the most important topic when it comes to photography. Although it may be surprising, your camera is NOT the most important thing when it comes to photography. (We'll talk about that in an upcoming blog.) Today, let's talk about light.

A well-lit image is a beautiful image. Sometimes those images are really dark with very little light. Sometimes those images are really bright and airy. Sometimes it's just perfectly balanced light. Regardless, the lighting of an image is possibly the most important part of the image. I can have a gorgeous model in a picturesque scene with amazing props and wardrobe but if I don't light it correctly, none of that matters. So, let's talk a little bit about how light can effect an image.

There are two situations where light can be particularly tricky: when it is really bright or really dark. When the sun is high in the sky, many people think that it's the perfect time to take pictures because there is a lot of light, but that's not always true. If you have your subject facing the sun, you're likely going to have squinty, closed eyes and a lot of details can be lost when you have too much light. But you also have problems when there is not enough light. You can get something called "noise" in your images. Noise is the grain that you see in darker images and it's not always a bad thing. Sometimes noise adds to the authenticity of the image but with too much noise, you lose details and it does't make for the prettiest picture. So what do you do? You're not always going to have great light, but I have a few tips that will help:

1) Open Shade. If you're somewhere outside, try to find something called open shade. Under a tree or a small roof. Shade your subject so that they're not squinting and you're not losing any details of the image. So, if your child is playing with sticks and you want to capture that moment, have them play in the shade for your pictures. 

(Shade is provided by a large tree overhead, with light coming in from the right.)


(Light is coming from the left via a large glass door and from above with skylights.)

2) Dappled Light. Beware the dappled light! Dappled light is that gorgeous thing that happens when light shines through things like leaves on a tree in gorgeous rays of light. This light is beautiful and can be amazing to photograph. However, it can also create strange patches on peoples faces and clothes. If you want to take pictures of someone in dappled light, you need to make sure that they are lit enough to see but shaded enough to not have a bright spot in the middle of their forehead.

(Light is coming through the trees off camera on the right side of the image. But the light just on the edge of her face, plus the small rays of light next to her make this one of my favorite images.)


3) Back lighting. When you're outside and don't have access to open shade, you can back light your subject. What that means is that you can put your subject between you and the sun. Having the sun at their back means that they're not squinting and you're not losing detail to too much light. You can run into the problem of having too little light and losing detail to noise, but you're much more likely to capture a great shot. In the image below, you can see large circles in front of her. These are called sun flares and can happen if there isn't enough shade in front of the lens. These can be tricky because they aren't always the look that you're going for. Luckily, this was a mom-snap, so it doesn't bother me!

(The light was REALLY bright that day. You can even see that she's still slightly squinting even though she's not facing the sun. But I loved how the light showed her crazy flyaways.)

4) Phone Helpers. Your phone can be amazingly helpful with light....sometimes. Personally, I have an iPhone 6. So, if I'm taking a picture, I can touch my subject on the screen and adjust the exposure by touching next to the sun that pops up on the screen before I take the picture. This is incredibly helpful when I don't have enough light, but want to avoid too much noise. You can also edit your images right on your phone to help with exposure. There are a variety of apps out there that can help you edit your photos even further, as well.

5) Light angles. When you're looking at your subject, pay attention to how the light is hitting them. Is it shading half of their face? Can you see everything that you want to see? Move around your subject and see where the light is the most flattering for both your subject and your image. I've often told people that one of the best things I've done to learn light is to take an apple, put it on my kitchen table and photograph it from multiple angles to figure out where the light looks the best. 

(Light is coming from a sliding glass door on the left of the image. I liked how calm the lighting looked on her face. The way that this image is lit is also really bringing attention to her nose, which was the focus of the image.)


So, those are 5 things about light that you should know, but it's in no way a comprehensive look at light when it comes to photography. We'll go over more things about light as time goes on, I assure you :) However, photography is art. Sure there are rules, but rules aren't always what makes things interesting. The important thing is to find the way that YOU love the light and go for it! The amazing Sue Bryce said "Find your light and you will find your style." Play with your camera, taking shots in different light around your home. If you learn more about lighting and use that knowledge when you take pictures, you quickly see improvements.


Was this blog helpful? What else do you want to learn about? Tell me in the comments! :)


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