Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better Pictures

Good lighting can turn a photo from a ho-hum snapshot into a wall-worthy work of art! What can you do to make sure you have good lighting on every shot? Here are our best tips and tricks for improving the lighting in your photos: Indoors Good lighting can be a challenge indoors.  Usually you are in a low-light setting and often can’t control the ambient light in the room.  Still, there are some things you can do to improve your indoor images:
 Image1FlashNoFlash Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better Pictures
  • Turn off your flash. Light from a flash is harsh and can leave dark, ugly shadows and it's definitely not kind to us "older" people.
  • Set the camera down (or use a tripod). This will allow you to slow down your shutter speed, letting more light into the camera. If you don't know how to shoot in manual, you can set your camera on Shutter Priority (usually indicated by a Tv on the dial) and that will allow you to slow down your shutter speed.
  • If you can't avoid having your subject's back to the window in daytime, turn on your flash! Adding in light from the front will keep you from getting a dark silhouette.
Image2WindowLight Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better Pictures
  • Find a window. You don't need to have the window in the shot, but position your subject near enough to the window to take advantage of the indirect light. Position your subject sideways to the window for a nicely shaded look.
 Image3BacklightFlash 300x276 Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better Pictures
  • If you can't avoid having your subject's back to the window in daytime, turn on your flash! Adding in light from the front will keep you from getting a dark silhouette.
  • Raise your ISO as high as you reasonably can. Your photos will get more grainy as your ISO gets higher, so know when the grain gets unacceptable. To find this out, set your camera on P (Program) and take the same image at every ISO setting. Bring them into your photo-editing program and zoom in to 100 percent. Note what setting makes the photos too grainy for your taste and keep your ISO set below that level.
  • Add light. Turn on a lamp in another part of the room, light a few more candles (this works great for birthdays: add in votive candles on the table around the cake!).
  • Add brightness with light surfaces. Try this: set your birthday cake in a darkened room on a dark tablecloth. Now change to a white cloth and see what a difference it makes in available light! You can apply this principle in many ways: put a piece of white poster board on your subject's lap (out of the frame) to reflect light onto their face, position them near a white wall or door, hold up the poster board on the side of your subject opposite the window to reflect some of that light into the shadows.
  • Use a reflector: You can purchase reflectors that fold up or use a piece of white foam-core or poster board. Have a helper hold up the board on the opposite side of the subject from the light source. (If the light's from the left, place the board on the right.) Angle the board until you see the light reflecting onto your subject. This will fill in dark shadows and give you a more evenly lit photo.
Outdoors Obviously, you're limited by the weather when shooting outdoors and usually the problem isn't enough light, but too much. Here are tips to help you make all that sunshine work for you!
  • Embrace gray, cloudy days. The diffuse light that comes through the clouds is good to everyone. An overcast day is the perfect time to grab the kids and pets and head out to the park to take some photos.
  • Wait for the golden hour! The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset will give you beautiful, directional light that isn't too strong and is warmly colored. Even on a cloudy day, the sun often breaks through when it goes below the cloud line and you'll have twenty minutes of beautiful, glorious sun.
Image4Shadow Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better Pictures
  • Know where the sun is. While conventional wisdom says you need to have the sun at your back, try moving your subject so the sun is coming at them from the side. You'll get pleasing shadows and won't have to work to keep yourself out of the frame.
 Image5DappledShade 256x300 Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better Pictures
  • Find some shade. Open shade is your best friend, it diffuses your light evenly but still leaves plenty of light for your exposure. Look for the north side of a building, shade behind a hill or under a tree or awning. Be careful if the shade is dappled with patches of sunlight though, either the sunny portions will be overexposed or the shade will be too dark. Try to find full shade where there is no sunlight peeking through.
  • Make your own shade! Get a white bed sheet and a couple of clamps. Clamp the sheet to a tree branch or to the top of the porch or have a couple of friends hold it up to block direct sunlight and create that even, diffuse light that works so well.
  • Add brightness with light surfaces! Bring your handy-dandy poster board and use it to direct light into the shadows. This works wonderfully in the shade where you just want to brighten up your subject's face. Have a helper hold the poster board just out of frame and move it around until you like the light. Don't have a poster board? Position your subject near a lightly colored wall, the side of a truck, the sail of a boat... anything that will reflect light into the shadows.
Image6LensHood 300x229 Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better Pictures
  • Use a hood. Lens flare is the result of sunlight going straight into the lens. While it can be arty and attractive at times, most of the time it doesn't go where you want it! To avoid unwanted lens flare, keep a hood on your lens or use your hand or an index card to shade the lens and avoid this problem. If you can't shade your lens, try repositioning yourself or the subject so that the sun isn't hitting the camera.
  • Use a hood. Lens flare is the result of sunlight going straight into the lens. While it can be arty and attractive at times, most of the time it doesn't go where you want it! To avoid unwanted lens flare, keep a hood on your lens or use your hand or an index card to shade the lens and avoid this problem. If you can't shade your lens, try repositioning yourself or the subject so that the sun isn't hitting the camera. [Image 6]
Paying a little attention to your lighting can result in big improvements in your images. Give one of these tips a try next time you are taking photos and bring your photography to the next level! Stanheadshot 150x150 Photography Tips: Controlling Light for Better PicturesGuest Author Stan White is the Director of Digital Solutions at Advanced Photographic professional color lab in Cleveland TN. He's taking more photos with his smartphone these days than he ever thought he would, but still finds time to drag out the DSLR on occasion.
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