The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

lighting 1st, location 2nd

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It’s a mini photography tutorial. Are you ready? It’s SO simple, yet something SO often forgotten/ignored.

When you are getting ready to take a set-up photo (i.e. a photo where you have time to move either yourself or your subjects) think LIGHTING FIRST, location (or your setting) second.

Say it out loud!:)Lighting 1st, Location 2nd. (repeat until memorized!)

Example: The other day I was shooting a family of four. Another photographer was in the same area with me taking pictures of two adorable kids. There was a super cool tree with leaves still on it, down below a huge pile of colored leaves it had already said goodbye to. So cool! The only problem was the lighting. The sun was high above and was poring through the bare areas where the leaves had already shed. The two kiddos were cozied in the leaves with random sun spots on their faces, their eyes hidden in the shadows. The photographer had a great idea, but ultimately the mom doesn’t care about the tree, right? She cares about her children’s faces. Those are of utmost importance for the shot and I can promise you they did not look pretty in the final product.

I, on the other hand, was in a rather boring location, the background was nothing worth gawking over, but my family had beautiful even lighting on their faces. The result, albeit boring to most, was a family photo that was not tainted by bad lighting. Nothing took away from our simple goal of documenting their family as it looks today.

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A few simple things to keep in mind when taking pictures. Keep the sun to your back. Let it help you light the scene. This is also relevant when it is cloudy/overcast. You would not believe how much the sun is still casting light through the blanket of clouds.

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{Does this mean I always have to shoot with my back to the sun?} Great question! And, the answer is HECK NO! Incredible photographs can be made with the sun in front of you, but the rule is this: it must be low in the sky to work for you. Think early morning, late afternoon. (And, know how to use your metering modes on your camera – every camera has them! – in order to meter the light for their faces and leave your shot properly exposed.)

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If you are under shade keep you subject(s) at the edge of the shade. Too much shade can be a bad thing, leaving your subject’s eyes “dead” and your photo blah.

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If you are indoors, look for windows. North & south facing windows are the absolute best as they will give you a soft-box type of lighting when it’s nice and bright outside. (iPhone owners – use your compass to find your north & south facing windows.)

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And, in those cases when all lines up perfectly and the delicious lighting is in the same place as the perfect setting … well, those are the situations worth squealing over!


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p.s. Lighting is one of many topics taught in my 6-week “Photographer Wannabe” workshop. For more info, CLICK HERE.

Know any cool lighting techniques? Share them, please oh please! We all can learn so much from each other …

About Jessica

Jessica is a full-time lifestyle photographer mainly focusing on families and children. In her free time she loves a good memoir, is a sucker for reality TV, loves DIY projects and is addicted to traveling the world. Find her at 503 Photography and browse through her blog to get a peek into the girl behind the lens!

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  • Mrs. Gore

    This was so helpful! I’m not a professional, by any means, but I am learning the difference between taking decent vs. really good photos of my own children. Thank you for taking the time to share this! I’ll definitely be coming back to learn more…

  • jpritchard

    oh i LOVE this. because you are right…lighting really DOES make or break the photo. and well, so do the subjects IN the photos–& lighting just highlightes their amazing-ness :)

    i started a “13 Ways to Better Photos” on my blog–stay tuned for the next few weeks to complete the series :)

  • Luschka

    Great tips! Thank you for sharing.

  • Jessica

    Hi Heidi,

    Great questions! When it’s that bright and you want your subjects to face the camera then move to the shade. Another option is to have the sun still to your back but at an angle (like facing your shoulder, more than your back) to keep your subjects from staring right into the sun.

    There are incredible advanced point & shoots that offer you the capability of changing your settings while not being nearly as expensive/cumbersome as a DSLR. I have owned 2 Panasonics (they are famous for their Lumix lenses) and been totally happy with both. Check for reviews for what is best today.

  • heidi @ wonder woman wannabe

    Great tips! How do you deal with \’squinties\’ (young subjects who complain and squint their eyes due to the sun being at your back causing them to face the sun)??

    Also, another random question – I\’ve been thinking of upgrading to a \’big girl\’ camera. What would be the best step up (but managable for a novice phographer) from a standard digital point and shoot?