Photography 101- Great Light!

You have good taste. I can just tell. I mean, look at those shoes you're wearing. And your blog is beautiful and a real reflection of your great style. And now you want your own photographs to match that style.

Sounds good. Let's start with the most important element of photography: great light! To make a great picture, use great light.

It's so much easier to make a flattering, interesting image when there's gorgeous light, whether you're taking pictures of food or how good you look in your new pants. Under ideal lighting conditions, you can make interesting, compelling pictures whether you're using a camera phone or a $3,000 camera. This is important, so I'll repeat that. To make a great picture, use great light.

So you ask, what does "good light" mean? It means, light that is flattering to the subject, or that falls on the subject in flattering ways.

Let's start with what good light isn't. The flash from your camera does not produce beautiful, flattering light. Turn that sucker off!

Now, that’s a cute boy and all, but that flash isn't doing the picture any favors. Oh, sure, there are going to be times you don't have any choice, but in most cases, you're better off without it.

Next, bright, direct sun, in most cases, is not flattering light. It produces harsh shadows that you probably don't want.

Plus, if you're taking pictures of people out in the sun, there's going to be lots of squinting. And if you're taking pictures of kids in direct sun, in addition to squinting, there’s bound to be complaining. "It's too bright. It's burning my retina. How come I can't have another otter pop?”

What does that leave, then? It leaves natural light. The source of natural light is still the sun, but not directly. It’s the ambient light on the shady side of a building. It’s the light coming in from the windows. It’s the light that comes into your house when you open your front door. This picture below was taken in the entry way of my house. 

I made sure the overhead light was off and then I just opened up the front door which is just to the right of the frame, producing beautiful soft, descriptive light. I just had my son sit down on a stool with the front door wide open.

You may notice that this picture was taken in the exact same spot as the first image at the exact same time of day. However, in the first picture taken with a flash, it produces an unnatural shadow underneath the chin, and the harsh, direct light coming from the flash flattens everything out. In this third picture, the shadow that is created gives the image a sense of depth and takes a two-dimensional object (a photograph) and gives it the appearance of a three-dimensional object (handsome fellow).

Just like any of the rules of photography, these lighting rules aren't hard and fast. They’re more like guidelines, but a darn good place to start.

This post is part 1 of a 4 part series by Justin Hackworth. If you’d like to learn a lot more about how to make great pictures, then join us on July 16 for DSLR 101 and on July 26 for DSLR 201

P.S. After you take all those great pictures, you’ll probably want to do what we did. Which was spend the next two hours at the pool.

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Eden Hensley

Marketing creative, community engagement specialist, technophile, photographer, food and wine enthusiast, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Road to The Good Life, a lifestyle blog about appreciating and enhancing your life by being grateful for the "haves" instead of lingering on the "wants." There you will find personal stories about my life and family weaved in with real-life, achievable entertaining tips, recipes for hearty home cooked meals, and DIY projects for capturing and sharing memories. I believe the best place to swap stories is over a shared meal, preferably a Thai-meal served family style, and teach an online introduction class to Thai Flavors and host the Family Dinners at The Station supper club in San Francisco.