Let me put it out there, I am no definite expert but I have learnt a few things from being around and meeting with professional photographers. Here are some quick tips on how to make the most of natural light in a ‘home’ or ‘outdoors’ environment when taking photos of your children or other people.
I started taking photographs nearly 15 years ago, initially of my friends and people on the street, and then of my children and family friends. Since the beginning of this year I am taking more photographs of other people as a professional photographer and these tips still apply. When I turn up at someone’s house I have to do a quick assessment of the place, where the light source is i.e. windows and where can we ‘set-up’ for the shoot, in terms of light and background.
I am not going to talk here about camera settings as that is another topic that deserves a whole lot of attention in itself and there are countless guides out there about that. I know I have created a few quick ‘go-to’ settings I use on my camera in manual mode – f4 for shallow depth of field and ISO 200 or 400; f5.6 for having more of the subject in focus and ISO 200 or 400 or more for indoor lighting; f11 for anything that is landscapes and where I need the whole scene to be in focus. These set-ups seem to work for me but I do also get it wrong and have to take a few more shots just in case.
In order of importance as others more expert than me say, the psychology of the shoot is the first thing to care about, then you need to define your positioning and lighting and have a few ‘set-up’ scenarios that you can use during the shoot.
1. The psychology of the shoot
Being good at ‘people management’ is the first rule of thumb. Building a good rapport is important as that will allow people to feel at ease and be natural. During this shoot with my friend and her family we spent about one hour together and this photos was taken about half-way through, meaning that by this point everyone was feeling more relaxed and ‘playing the game’.
There are countless permutations about positioning and where you could be as you can be anywhere, ready to photograph your subject.
Be ready to capture the natural
With children however being quick to take the shot is key and capturing them in their natural element is the best.
With my son on this shoot I took a few photos from above, while he was lying on the floor and I paused for a bit which is when he put his hands on each side of his face and I ‘caught’ the pose quickly enough before he moved. Priceless!
Move around and try different positions
If one position doesn’t seem to work just move around and try a new one. Incorporating the elements from the scene your children are busy playing with also gives more interest to the photo.
Use the ‘bird’s eye’ perspective
A good one with children as they are little and it is possible but also because they have lovely expressions when capturing them from above.
Make use of beautiful backgrounds
As simple as that, making the most of flower beds, or trees or any other cute background.
These are important as they do not distract away from the focus of the photo. If you can, try and move things that are in the way, toys, tables, chairs etc. Or place your subject in front of a clean wall or a use a backdrop if you have, that’s even better.
3. Lighting or what makes beautiful photographs
Again there are beautiful works of art out there from professional photographers that master the art of lighting in studio or outdoors and use appropriate equipment for that. I love photos from Damien Lovegrove and Julia Boggio.
However lighting is something anyone can use and be aware of no matter what your level of photography is.
In simplistic terms there are a number of elements that you need to care about the most about lighting and that will help you produce better photos.
The quality of light with “soft” light generally being more flattering than “hard” light
However hard light can be used to create dramatic effects.
Lighting on the subject is “soft” when the source of light is near the subject and diffuse in its distribution. For example the light coming from a window. Lighting on the subject is “hard” when the source of light is removed/far from the subject or is a strong “not-covered” single source of light. Think about the sun or a single lighting source above your subject’s head.
The direction of light
This is the direction from which the light falls on to the subject with lighting from the side usually being more flattering for portraits.
Lighting from above is less so, for .e.g. midday sun is not very flattering and can be harsh.
However if there isn’t a clear ‘direction of light’, the most important is for the subject to be well lit.
Defined as the difference in lighting between the “well lit areas” of the subject and the “not so well lit” ones. The smoother the difference in lighting between these areas, the less contrast will be in the photograph.
A reflector can help reduce contrast or using more than one source of light (which I didn’t have here in this photo and therefore it is a contrasted light).
4. Your ‘go-to scenarios’ you can use during the shoot
Indoors or a home environment
Use the window as your light source and place your subject next to it.
Shoot in the doorway, that is another great location, as light is interesting.
Increase the ISO settings on your camera to 800 or more and use a wider aperture (f4 for mine or f1.8, f2 for other lenses).
Look at where the light is coming from and try and place your subjects where the light falling into them, is most flattering.
Use sunlight to light the subjects hair from behind, giving the photo a magical hazy effect.
Use natural elements to add interest
Trees or flowers, or long grass anything that makes the place look magical and unique.
Make use of accessories for your ‘models’
During a maternity shoot we made use of hats to add elements of interest to the photos.
Conclusion – ‘make your photo’ rather than ‘take your photo’
A lot of effort goes into beautiful images, the location, lighting, posing, clothes, emotions so the more of these you use the better your photos will be. But as with anything you don’t need to wait to be perfect before you start you can start from where you are and get better overtime.
As mentioned at the start, these are some quick tips i have learnt along the way, through courses I have attended, a mums photo club I run for a while in Clapham and being a member of the Photographer Academy and the SWWP.
You can start using these tips today to take better photos, using natural light.
Have you found this useful? Do you have any other tips you find useful? I would love to hear from you.
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