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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Photography 101 {be a student of the light}

Light.

It's something we might take for granted. Or maybe not when it's 1:46am in the morning, and I trip on a size 13 shoe.  Or golf balls.  Or the dog.  Or a half-eaten banana.  Not that that's ever happened to me mind you.  I'm just throwing out some perfectly random hypothetical examples here.

If you want to take great photos you'll need to look at your surroundings and study them.   And specifically, because photography and light go hand in hand, we need to observe the light and know it's characteristics to set up a great photograph.

I have a friend who I am currently mentoring on her DSLR journey, and when showing me a photo she took of her daughter, she said, See, I just don't know where to put her?  Or put me?  Does that make sense?
Oh yessiree it does!  And it's all about the light.  We all know that we need light to get a good photo, but I SO understand that translating that as we're taking a photograph is the hardest part.

So let's get down to brass tacks.
There are so many things to think about when thinking about how light effects a photo.  But let's keep it simple, and here are my 3 biggies to take into consideration when I set up a photograph.

First, you should consider which way the light is traveling.  If you're only going to take away one thing from this post, this is the one that will have the most impact on your photos.  If the light is coming in a window, face your subject towards the window so that that light hits your subjects face, and/or move your body between your subject the the light source.  When you're in the situation, you may not notice a big difference, but your camera WILL see the light differently than your eye and will "catch" light that you may not see.  If you're on a porch or in an open garage, face your subject to the opening so that natural light can "hit them."  If you're outside under shade, look to see where the sun is in the sky and face your subject's face in the direction of the sun.  It may be a very subtle difference to your naked eye.  But your camera will magnify that lighting difference, so make sure they light coming into the space is hitting the surface of the subject your photographing.
This photo is taken on our front porch.  The kiddos are sitting on the edge of our porch facing the open side of the porch, and the direction the light is coming from.  You can even see the light on their faces, as compared to less light/shadowing on the sides of their faces, where less light is hitting them.  
Next, consider if your surroundings have direct or indirect sunlight.  Indirect light just means that the light is diffused compared to direct sunlight.  For the sake of our photography 101 lessons, let's just say no direct sunlight on your subject or even the background.  To start off I recommend taking photos in all shade conditions.  Yes, it is possible to take wonderful photos in direct sunlight, but it's an advanced maneuver, and I promised you I'd keep this simple and easy!  You'll need to look very carefully and not shoot photos in splotchy light either, the type that is often found filtering under trees.  Splotchy light on your subject will result in very uneven exposure.  So no splotchy light either.  You'll find shooting in all shade is the easiest way to get great photos, especially as you are still learning the fundamentals.
These two photos were taken at the same time in the same place. I like them both, but the first one of my son, has some distracting shadows (from his hair and head) because of the direct sunlight.
This photo was taken about 5 feet from the above photo, but my daughter was in full shade under an awning. It is much easier to meter (both for your camera if you're metering automatically and for the photographer if she's doing it manually) if the light is the same intensity, and thus there is a lot of nice clarity in her face, skin, and eyes.
Lastly, ask yourself, what color is the light?  Huh?  Isn't all light... light colored?  Well not really.  Depending on the source of the light, light can be tinged different colors.   Fluorescent light has a blue-green cast.  Regular ol' incandescent light bulbs throw off a yellowish light.  Now if you're doing any post processing (Photoshop, Lightroom...) this color cast can be quickly corrected.  But if it's really obvious that there are going to be color issues, then you should consider changing the "white balance" on your camera prior to shooting.  For example, when I'm indoors, and there is no natural light, and all available light is either incandescent or florescent, I will correct the color balance in my camera, before I start taking pics, setting my camera to the fluorescent or incandescent.  (Setting white balance in camera needs to be a whole 'nother post.)
This is a photo from another student that I'm mentoring.  She's a natural at food photography, but this photo originally looked at bit yellow-ish.  I'm guessing she took this photo under incandescent lights.  We corrected it in post processing, but she could have done it in camera before she took the photo.  
OK, so is any of this making sense?  That's a lot of info.
Just remember to ask yourself 3 things regarding the light when you are setting up a photo

1)  Where is the light coming from?  Face your subject in that direction.
2)  Is there direct sunlight or splotchy light on your subject?  Move if there is, and shoot in all shade.
3)  What color is the light?  If there is an color cast, correct your white balance in camera or correct during post-processing.

Now for the audience participation part of the blog, if you're having trouble with lighting issues, please feel free to send me an email with a photo attached, and we can figure out a game plan to make it even better.  
Really.  
You can do it right now if you want!  I'll wait.
Go ahead.  Send it!  
I'm serious when I say that I'd love to help you capture your own memories!

Speaking of the mentoring that I'm doing, I have some news that I am so stinkin' excited to share!  Many have encouraged me to take this next step, and it's a big step for me!  I'm a teeny bit scared and a whole bunch excited to be doing something that I love love love.  Coming soon!

New Photography 101 poll on the sidebar.  Vote for the topic you'd like to see next.  

25 comments:

  1. Great 101 today! Maybe when you get to '201' you'd want to do one on "painting with light" we had some fun with that during a couple training excercises I was on!

    And of course you post daily with lots of pictures while I'm hung up out of town - great stuff in these past three...you certainly have the 'eye'!

    hugs - aus and co.

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  2. I usually set my white balance to cloudy when I'm outside. I find that the colors are just a bit better. Now inside, ugh... I'm still all over the place.

    Julie

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    1. Oh I am SO going to try that! Would love a little color boost SOOC!

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  3. Thank you again, Nancy! Please tell me you are going to offer mentorship!? Please, please, pretty please?

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  4. I would love for you to do a series on post-editing of pictures. I have really struggled with what and how to get more out of my pictures.

    Michele

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    1. I think I could add something like that to the poll next time and see if anyone is interested. But it would have to be for Lightroom, as that's what I prefer to use.
      Great suggestion!
      nancy

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  5. I hope you are going to teach a class!

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  6. Thanks for the lighting tips...wish I had read them before we went to the beach! :) I love your water/pool pictures of the kids-adorable!!

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    1. Beach pics can be a BEAR and they can be awesome! Next time you go, let me know, and I'd love to give you some tips!
      nancy

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  7. Are you going to do online classes?? Oh I do hope so, please let there be a total beginners class, pretty please!

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  8. Hi Nancy!

    I love your Photography 101 series! I have been wanting a better camera for a long time, and now that we are leaving for China on Thursday night, I just had to get one to capture the memories!

    I'll be here hanging on every word you say till I get it right! :)

    Blessings!
    Diane

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    1. Diane--So excited you are going to get your girls on THURSDAY!!! Oh MY!!! How how wonderful!!
      nancy

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  9. I too am loving the photography 101 series.. and I am proud to say that my next sets of sushi shots (and other shots) were much better! Changing the white balance really isn't that hard (and now I know how to fix it in post editing too!). Oh, and I am told that particular California Roll was yummy (It was my friend's lunch, mine consisted of cucumber roll and avocado roll.

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    1. Lisa-Marie... You are doing so so wonderfully. I'm learning from your composition and style! Thank you so much for being my very first student. It has been an honor.
      nancy

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  10. Thank you so much for your comment on my blog! Your family is so beautiful! I really need to go back and read all of your photography tips--we have a decent camera but I really have no idea how to use it (which I hate to admit). Hope the school year is starting well!
    :-)

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  11. I'm returning your visit to my blog over at http://stacy-workinprogress.blogspot.com/. I love your photos and these tips are great! I know I need to do some serious work on my photography. I'll be sure to use these tips and start practicing!

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  12. I love your photos, really I do. I think my photography interest developed about the same time as yours.... but I do not have any small children or girl children to practice on. I was blessed with boys,boys who find my photograh hobby rather annoying if I ask them to model. They are also grown an have left my nest. On top of that they have not yet blessed me with grandchildren. I know wierd. Anyways....I want to take you up on the offer for free mentoring but....I'm a teacher, a special education teacher and this is the middle of the 3rd week of school.....right now no time, sad I know.....but not this weekend but the weekend of Sept. 15th I plan to spend my whole weekend devoted to photography. There is a local photo. weekend offered at Living History Farms in Des Moines Ia, the pope once visited there and said mass. It was a huge Catholic event for Iowa. any ways.......for the second year in a row I am traveling to the big city only an hour away and staying at a motel by myself. for 2 nites to participate, can you imagine, I said ALONE. Truely it was a highlight of my life last year, and it was rainy and very chilly last year and I despise wet, mudd and cold! I treasure every photo from that weekend. So after the 16th of Sept. may I send you some photos for you to critique and tell me what I'm missing?

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  13. So thankful that you are sharing your photography tips! They are easy to understand and practical. Now to get out and use them!

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing these tips. So happy I found your site. I'm still learning the ropes so this is absolutely wonderful for me. I'm pinning this to my photography board!!! :)

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  15. Thanks for stopping by my site Nancy. I came over to look at yours and am so happy I did. I love this post on photography and it will really help me. Thanks so much and love your blog.... Will be following!

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  16. Hi Nancy. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I am your newest follower and am loving everything that I have read. If those costumes work out for you, please let me know. I'd love to show them in action and you take waaayyyy better pictures than I could. Ironically, I had taken up photography as a hobby way back when. Last year, I gave my photography book away to our local library thinking I would not use them. THEN I started a blog. What would I give to have them back now?!

    Karina

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  17. i love you 101 photography posts! thanks for visiting and following my blog and I have to make coming by and reading on my alone time a MUST! gracias and greetings from mexico!
    clau

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