Photographers wield light like authors wield words to tell stories. Different qualities of light evoke different emotions, and poor lighting can make even the most lovely person in the world look like Quasimodo.
From a photography standpoint, you always want to be thinking about light. It’s comprised of three components — quality, color and direction.
Here are five photography tips to help you make the most of your light.
1. Let there be light!
Your flash is a powerful tool that lets you manipulate light, and with it, you can guide a viewer’s eye, and make them notice what you want them to notice.
But flashes aren’t your only light sources. Windows, lamps, overhead lights, mirrors — heck, even flashlights and the light from the screen on your phone are light sources.
Now, since you can’t always be in the room with someone when they’re looking at one of your pictures, that’s where your ability to manipulate light comes into play in your photography.
One important thing to remember? You don’t always have to point your flash directly at your subject. Light reflects and bounces off surfaces, and you can use that to your advantage. Experiment by taking pictures near windows, lamps, overhead lights, bright walls (keep in mind that walls will throw a colorcast), and combine light sources — literally move them around sometimes — to create different effects.
2. What are soft boxes and umbrellas used for?
Soft boxes — those large, usually black or white rectangular boxes you see mounted on tall poles on film sets and photo shoots — are referred to as light modifiers. They’re often used to diffuse powerful lights, reducing harsh, unflattering shadows, like the kind that the flash on your camera can produce.
Without a light modifier, a flash is like a machine gun of light. Modifiers like umbrellas soften the light as it passes through them. HINT-HINT: bedsheets, curtains and other semi-transparent fabrics you already have around the house do the same thing.
3. Going the distance
Changing the distance between your light sources and your subject can create dramatically different effects. Sometimes, taking one step left or right, or forward or back, can totally change your picture. This is particularly noticeable in direct sunlight on a bright, sunny day. Sometimes all it takes is one or two steps to move your subject into the shadows, where your light is softer and probably much more flattering.
4. We’re gellin’
Professional photographers often place tinted plastic covers called gels (which actually aren’t gels at all) over their light sources to change the quality or color temperature of light, especially in mixed lighting situations.
All light has a color tint (think unflattering fluorescent restroom lighting). Sometimes it’s more yellow/orange, and other times it’s more blueish/green. Photography gels, like amber CTO gels (Color Temperature Orange), can correct for an excess of blue in your light.
5. Lenses: now you see me, now you don’t
You know those huge, long camera lenses that paparazi photographers use to snap pictures of celebrities from a mile away? Those are high millimeter lenses like 300mm or 400mm and up, which work in multiples of 35mm, which approximates the distance the naked eye sees, so a 300mm lens is about 8.5x magnification (makes everything look closer).
Lenses are like photography’s secret sauce. There’s a lot to understanding how lenses work, but the lower the millimeter rating, the wider the field of view (the more you can see). The higher the millimeter rating, the greater the magnification or zoom.
Another very important criteria of lenses is called aperture, and it’s complicated, but you can look at it like this: the lower the f rating of the lens, the faster it is (generally) and the better it is at taking clear pictures in low light.
Like I said, there’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. One of my very favorite Canon lenses is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. The 1.8 means that it’s quite quick (quick enough to snap action pics of Tabs) and pretty good in low light, even without a flash. And it’s not terribly expensive, as far as lenses go.
Most “kit” lenses that come with DSLR cameras are around f/3.5 and up. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 above is faster.
I hope these tips help you take better pictures.
Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,
P.S. For more tips from Photoshop World and other conferences I’ve attended, click here.