The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

Just a Little More Light

I was recently going through some images from this summer on one of my hard drives, and I came across these two frames that made me smile.  I thought they might be helpful in explaining how to “manipulate light” (or manipulate your camera’s settings, really) to get two different moods from the same setting, same light, same subjects, etc.  (I do this all the time at sessions with clients.)  And the only thing my sweet subject had to do was turn around to face me; I didn’t move an inch!

Look #1 is dark and shadowy (my favorite).

Lila was just ahead of me on our way out the door, and I asked her to stop and wait for Mama.  She obeyed, and just peeked out the doorway.  Of course, I swooned at the backlight wrapping around her little body.  I grabbed my camera, metered quickly for the light spilling on the edge of her skin closest to the light, and pressed the shutter.

image of a toddler girl in a doorway wearing a sunhatNikon D700, 50mm 1.4 at ISO 100, f/2.5 and 1/200.

When I processed the photo, I was careful to leave some detail in the shadows, especially on her back and legs, rather than to completely silhouette her with some crazy levels and curves.  I wanted that detail I captured to remain in the image, and loved the way the highlights on her skin were still preserved as well.  I also love the texture in the wood floor and in her straw hat, so I was careful about my mid-tones here too.

Look #2 is light and bright.

I knew I needed a bit more light to hit my sensor to achieve a different look, so I quickly metered for her back (which was still toward me) and adjusted my camera’s settings.  I opened up the aperture a bit more and slowed the shutter speed down as well.  This allowed more light to enter my camera for a longer period of time, therefore yielding a brighter, more light-filled exposure.

Then I simply called her name.  She turned and looked back at me… I swooned at her sweet face this time… and then I pressed the shutter again.

photo of a toddler girl wearing a straw hat, photo by Stacey WoodsNikon D700, 50mm 1.4 at ISO 100, f/1.8 and 1/100.

I processed the image quickly in ACR, and chose color this time.  The floor behind her is a smidge bright here on the web, although it’s perfectly exposed in Photoshop.  (Don’t you just love when that happens?!)  I love the airiness to this photo, and I think it just screams summer.  Best of all, it’s a very different feel than that of the first image I created.  (Both images were created in RAW and shot in Manual Mode.)

These photographs were taken a mere 7 seconds apart.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to assess the light, shoot a frame or two, decide to change the mood up, and readjust your settings.  In addition to understanding how light can be used differently in the same setting, I can’t stress enough how important it is to memorize your specific camera’s buttons, dials and settings so that you can adjust them very quickly.  When you’re just learning to use your camera (and especially when you’re earning your living with it), I feel that it’s so important to shoot in manual mode.  This is a must if you want to make your camera create what your mind already sees, because oftentimes you’ll need to “fool” your camera’s meter to get your desired results.  You can’t always rely on the piece of equipment in your hand to know what your vision is, and carry it out for you.  When it comes right down to it, YOU are the artist and YOU are in control.  You’ll need to understand how aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together to create the exposure that you have in mind.

If you’re an avid reader like I am, and want to understand how aperture, ISO and shutter speed rely on each other, then definitely check out Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.  All that technical jargon finally made sense, years ago, when I read this book (with camera in hand, of course).


I hope this helps someone.  And please, let me know if you’d like to see any specific photography tutorials from me.  I’ll do my best to accommodate your requests!

Stacey Woods

Co-editor, Stacey Woods is an on-location, natural light lifestyle photographer for the Tampa Bay, FL area. Her favorite subjects are expecting mamas, the tiniest of babies, and children of all ages, and she prefers to photograph them in black and white, almost exclusively. Her online photo journal can be found at Stacey Woods Photography. Stacey’s own husband and children (a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter) are her greatest source of inspiration… and laughter!

About Stacey Woods

Stacey Woods is an on-location, natural light lifestyle photographer for the Tampa Bay, FL area. Her favorite subjects are expecting mamas, the tiniest of babies, and children of all ages. She believes that the small moments are really the biggest ones, that photographs are legacies that we leave to our children, and that authentic love is beautiful. Her online photo journal can be found here.

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  • Jamela Bagarinao

    Your tutorial has been so informative and helpful. I’m currently enrolled in a Photography class at the area college. Well, your explanations are simple and to the point without all the technical information to complicate things. Thank you!

  • Pingback: Photography Questions and Answers, and Some Learning Opportunities - Stacey Woods Photography Blog » Stacey Woods Photography Blog()

  • Stacey Woods

    Okay, tutorials on metering, shooting in manual and tips on black and white conversions… I’ll get to work!! Thanks ladies for letting us know what you want to read!

    And for those who asked, I always, always spot-meter and change my focus points around. So whatever I focus on, my in-camera meter shows me the exposure for that. I don’t always try to center my exposure on zero (the middle hash mark), so I will adjust my iso or shutter speed, depending on what lighting I’m working with and what I envision my results to be. 😉

  • Christine

    These 2 pictures are amazing…your little girl is ADORABLE! I also have questions regarding your metering…how did you meter for both of the photos?

  • Christine

    Ok I have a really stupid question… I do shoot in manual because I figure that is the only way I will learn but I am not really sure what all of it means. So here is the stupid question… When you say you meter for a certain part of her skin does that mean that is what you exposed for? You used the in Camera meter yes? Also I have a 50d and always have a lot of noise in low light because I have to crank up my iso I figure I have to learn to live/love it. Or get rid of it pp or get a new camera. Thanks for all the tips Stacey! Your little one is adorable.

  • Ginger

    Love these…I’d love to hear more on how you meter? I’ve been shooting in manual for the past 8 months or so and am amazed still at the difference you got in these. I would love to hear your conversion methods. I adore bw and love the depth you always get!

  •!/pages/Fond-Memories-Photography/119600151445547 Dana McKinney

    Just ordered the book “Understanding Exposure”. Can’t wait to get started on it! I look forward to reading all of your articles. I have learned so much from you. Thanks Stacey!

  • Carri Powers

    I am amazed at how different these two photos turned out with very little change in the settings. I do try and shoot manual but never get what I want on the first few shots so those are always deleted and usually the best, candid shots. I’d love a rule of thumb to start with or maybe a tutorial on which setting you usually change first, since they are all related and dependent upon one another. I’ve love to see the color shot of the first one just to get a comparison with the second one. Your daughter is beautiful and you captured her excitement vividly!

  • tracy

    simply precious little lila… thank you for sharing this. amazing how a little change can make such a big difference.

  • kaley

    Beautiful, as always!

    I love your black and whites especially and was wondering if you would give some tips on black and white conversions. I am never fully satisfied with mine.

  • Tiffany

    Hi Stacy! Thank you for this. You mentioned if we wanted anymore photography tutorials than to let you know. Do you think you could do one on shooting manual? Ive been testing them out and using them but not because I understand them. I dont know when is the best time to use which mode, what each mode means, and sometimes my images come out black in certain modes. I keep reading books but I cant really practice while I read. If you maybe have some picture examples/videos or even a recommendation for some in person workshops that would be awesome. I live in Virginia Beach and have been looking for some good photography workshops…so far I am coming up short. Ugh. If you could help…that would be great!


  • Maggie

    thank you! they are both such sweet photos, I love the dark and shadowy style and now you’ve made it make sense to me. I’m totally going to try it out thank you so much. Oh, and I’m going to head over to Amazon and order that book.

  • kelsey {las vegas wedding photographer}

    Love these! She is so cute!

  • Jen K

    VERY helpful – thanks!!

  • ang

    Stace these are gorgeous!! Oh sweet Lila. xo

  • Mara

    Thanks Stacey for this! What are your tricks for metering so quickly? And what metering mode do you use?

  • Laura

    Wow — these two pictures are entirely different, but both SO GOOD. I with I could make magic happen with my camera, like you do. :)

  • Hanni Go

    Thanks for the tips on lighting Stacey! Love your work. One of the things I don’t understand how to do is meter light. Do you do use a handheld meter or just your camera? Any tips or places to go to help me understand how to do it would be helpful. Thanks.

  • T Pinks

    For years I have taken everyone’s pictures in the family. For years people have said I was awesome. For years I have felt inadequate and never understood a lot of my camera’s settings, etc. For years I have sold my outside photography. For years, I have never understood my big fancy digital camera. I think for the first time, you completely cracked my brain open with this blog. I never get the shot I want on manual. I have taken two photography classes and both classes were night and day. One said always shoot in auto, the other said manual. One was a photo for his entire 84 year old life, the other – young. Thank you so much. I needed this.