Here are 8 ways to help you find better light. This is not a scientific post – these are just ways I have tried to find better light and in turn improve my photography. I hope they help many of you too.  I may do some tutorials for you to expand on these in the future.  Please make notes in the comment section with your best advice on finding the light – or with your questions for future tutorials.

  1. Start with window light in your house – position your subject near a big window or doorwall on a sunny or partly sunny day. Have the subject move at different angles from the window.  Watch how the light changes – how the shadows fall – how the brighter light hits and forms shapes. If you cannot find good light on your subject then try a window on the other side of the house (facing a different direction).
  2. Look for catchlights – this applies both to indoor and outdoor light.  I find it easiest to do in open shade or window light. You can have your subject move (see next point) – or you can move – try different angles. Windows make amazing catchlights.  Big skies to do.  Flashes (especially onboard flash) usually make for terrible pinlights.  Avoid those whenever possible for true portraiture.
  3. If you must use a flash, use an external flash and bounce it off a wall or ceiling at an angle. If you can add a modifier, that is even better as it will spread the light more.
  4. Look for the light.  This is my favorite trick.  And it is so simple.  Have your subject turn slowly in a circle. Watch the light in the eyes 1st.  Then once you get good light, step back and check for how the light falls on the rest of the subject.
  5. Use a reflector.  This is not always practical or easy.  But sometimes it is the best way to get light into the eyes and onto the face. If you cannot afford a big reflector – or are running around with your kids, go get a piece of foam core.  I got 10 sheets last summer on sale.  And tried to bring it with me to the park, outside when kids played, etc.   When a piece got dented, I would let my kids draw on it.  You can even cover the foam core on one side with crumpled aluminum foil for more reflection.
  6. Look for harsh shadows and blow outs on a sunny day.  In full sun, you need to try your best to minimize shadows.  Try and find shade.  But when you do – make sure light is not peeking through and hitting the subject in spots.  Also baseball caps, buildings and trees often cast bad shadows. Watch for them.  Be aware. Relocate your subject when needed. If you need to shoot in full sun, try backlighting.  You can use a reflector, fill flash, or expose for the person and know that your sky and background may blow out.
  7. Shoot RAW. Though I do not believe in using RAW as an excuse for poor lighting and over or under exposure, it can help you by using the exposure slider, recovery slider and fill light in tricky situations.  It will NOT help you with super harsh shadows and major blown out areas.
  8. In Photoshop, you can use Touch of Light/Darkness (free here) or Hide and Seek (which is in the MCP All in the Details set and is a more powerful version of Touch of Light/Darkness) to paint light where needed and darken areas that are too light.  Again for super poor light, this will NOT save you, but for decent light it can make it spectacular.

Have fun finding the light…

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