Originally this was set up as a 5-day email course, but now I'm going to share the series of five emails with you over the summer!
Finding the Light
The first thing you need to do when taking a photograph is to find yourself some good light.
After all, photography comes from the Greek words “photo”, meaning light, and “graphia”, meaning writing or drawing. Without light, there can be no image!
Contrary to popular belief, the best time to shoot is not when the sun is bright and high in the sky. Instead, cloudy days that provide a natural, diffused, soft light are ideal for portrait photography.
If you are inside your house or building, find a window or doorway. Even on a cloudy, overcast day (ie 364 days of the year here in the north east!) there will be some soft, diffused light coming through at least one window in your home.
A quick tip I learned to check the light is to use your hand. Hold it out in front of you and notice how the light falls on it. If you are facing a window it will be in shadow or silhouette. Turn around in a circle until you find the best light falling onto your hand. Depending on what effect you want, this could be anywhere from 45-degrees away from the window, right through to 135 or 180 degrees.
90-degrees will give half light and half shadow, while 180 will give full light across your subject. Try them all and see which you prefer or best suits the atmosphere.
Chances are, you may be sitting in your favourite chair facing the window with your subject (your child, dog or cat) in between you and the window when you see or anticipate a moment worth capturing. Taking a photo from where you are will make your subject look very dark and the light from the window too bright, so the best thing to do is move your position.
Put yourself between the window and your subject with the window behind you. Now the light will be falling directly onto your subject. Try and get their attention so they look at you, aim for their eyes and take your picture!
Should you have a window that gets bright, full sunshine on it most of the day, try to shoot early in the morning or later in the evening when the light is less harsh. These precious times are known as the “golden hour” by photographers for the beautiful golden light that can be cast at sunrise or sunset. Alternatively a voile curtain will also help to diffuse and soften bright sunlight.
If you are outside on a bright, clear sunny day, do not do what your parents made you do and stand your subject exposed in the bright sunshine, squinting into the Sun with a pained grimace on your face as your retinas are scorched. You will only end up with harsh shadows, dark eyes and unflattering images.
Instead, find a shady spot. A tree, gazebo, overhang from a building or even the shaded side of a building are all welcome shelter on a hot, sunny day.
Place your subject in the shade and get them to look in the direction of the brighter light coming from the non-shaded area. The softer, diffused light in the shade is more flattering to skin tones and avoids the harsh contrast and pained expressions caused by direct sunlight.
Obviously when you are outdoors on a cloudy day, the world is your oyster! The clouds act as a huge softbox and disperse the sun’s bright rays. In this situation you do not need to find a shaded spot, but still try to get your subject to face the general direction of where the light is coming from. You might not be able to see the sun, but you know where it’s meant to be!
So, there you have it! A brief introduction to finding the best light for your photography!
Week 2 will arrive in your inbox next Monday, covering how to minimise background distractions and also use props to give your image more interest.
Thanks for reading!