Photography Tips: Understanding Your Light Source

In photography, lighting is key! From the amount of light used, to the way that light hits the subject, each variable affects the final outcome of your photo. In today’s photography tutorial, we are going to take a look at the two main light sources that impact your photo. So let’s have at it! :) Natural Lighting The sun is the biggest source of light we have, so of course it’s one of the best! However, just going outside and shooting whenever the sun is out isn’t always the best approach. The brightness and location of the sun can definitely work against you. At noon, for example, the sun is high in the sky and casts dark shadows under your subject’s eyes. If its too bright outside, your photos may be over exposed, blowing out the details you had hoped to capture in the background. The brightness can also cause your human subjects to squint and frown, which we’re sure isn’t the photo you’re hoping to capture. With these things in mind, here are some tips on how to make this natural light work for your shot.

Low SunlightThe setting sun allows you to capture all the details of the building without all the shadows.

Wait till the sun is low in the sky, casting light on your subject from the side. Side or angled lighting will prevent the look of a harsh spotlight. The "magic hour," which happens during early morning and late evening, is a great time to schedule a photo shoot. Side lighting is present because the sun is low and there is the extra benefit of a beautiful sky backdrop.

Rainbow HazeNotice the sun "rays" and the slight rainbow effect the sunflare has caused.

Try your best to keep the sun diagonally behind your subject. This prevents squinting, provides great lighting, and reduces the chance of sunflares in your photos. Sunflares cast a haze on your photo, showing the rays or rainbow-like streaks (similar to a prism) in your photo. If you choose to backlight your subject (having the sun directly behind your subject), check your photos to make sure your subject’s face isn’t too dark. If this is the case, you may need to use a reflector or flash to bring light to their face. Depending on your budget, you may want to invest in a lens hood. This device is attached to your lens and decreases the chances of sunflares appearing in your photos. If you’re on a tighter budget, try creating your own lens hood with cardboard or using this printout.

Side LightingThe window prevents the sun from being seen, but lights up the bracelet beautifully.

Natural lighting can be achieved in an indoor setting as well! Shoot photos near a window to achieve side lighting, while capturing the sun's natural light. Open up all the curtains or blinds to let the light flow into the room you’re using. The natural light will bounce off the walls and the room will appear brighter!

Artificial Lighting Unfortunately, the sun is not always at our disposable, so there will be times when artificial lighting will be needed. Enter the flash (no… not the quick red super hero, but that bright light on your camera :)). Personally, I try to avoid using the flash as much as possible because the camera’s built in flash is usually set too close to the lens, creating a harsh light with strong shadows.

Higher FlashThe flash has been moved far above the band, allowing you to capture the subject, while still keeping some of the background.

If your camera allows, move the flash further away from the lens. A softer light can also be achieve by pointing the flash in a different direction from your subject. The light isn’t shone directly on the subject, but the flash still goes off to illuminate your surroundings. If possible, bounce the flash off a wall to create a luminous effect. Doing this will make the space brighter and help to achieve side lighting, instead of direct lighting.

Busy backgroundThe background is dark, busy and in the distance, preventing the strong outline the flash creates.

If you must use the flash, be mindful of your background. If you are photographing against a light wall, the shadow the flash creates will be more prominent. To avoid this, position the subject away from the wall or choose a darker background. Shadows are less noticeable on a darker wall or amidst other objects. For point and shoots, where the flash is built into your camera, try turning your camera upside down. This will allow the camera’s flash to illuminate the subject from underneath, instead of putting a spotlight directly onto your subjects face. The shadows the flash normally creates will be filled instead.

Understanding your light source and knowing how it affects your shot will help to improve your photography skills. Experiment with the tips we’ve mentioned above and you’ll soon notice an all around improvement in all of your photos! If you don’t believe us, start a Mixbook to track your progress. Any of our portfolio themes provides a great way to view your photographic progress. Tune in next week to find out how to manipulate your light source to get the perfect shot!

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