How To: Find Flattering Natural Light for Portraits

Sarah is a professional photographer, from time to time she shares general photography tips and specialized tutorials to teach you to take better images.

Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s girlfriend looks extremely different depending on the lighting? If you haven’t, click the link and get caught up! If you’re a photographer, amateur or professional, you know that lighting is everything in photography, especially when it comes to photographing people and objects.

For the purpose of this post, let’s define flattering natural light as soft, even lighting without hard shadows. Let’s also aim for photos that reflect the true color of the subjects being photographed. We’ll also pretend that these photos are going to be self portraits because everyone is taking selfies these days and really the best way to master a technique is to practice, practice, practice.  You can be sure that you’ll always have yourself and your cell in most situations, so practice looking for flattering light every day that way when you need to find it, you’ll know where to look.

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Christmas Candids: A few tips!

I just watched a video of people unwrapping puppies and I’ve never been more grateful for family photographers.  We all want to capture the cheer and joy during holidays and gatherings so here are a few tips for photographing this year’s festivities.  First off, it really doesn’t matter if you’re shooting with a phone, point and shoot or a DSLR, these tips will work for you. Second, have fun while photographing, try to capture candid moments and remember to put down your camera for a few hours and really enjoy the moment as it is unfolding.  Happy Holidays!

White Balance

  • Check it!  The camera’s default setting is Auto White Balance, but that may not be the best option for the scene at hand.  Change the white balance to Incandescent or Fluorescent to see which setting works best for your home and lights.  If that sounded like Chinese to you, check out this Photography 101 post.

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Point of Focus

  • Pick one.  There is SO much going on at the holidays that you might see cookies, presents, lights and decorations all in one scene.  Decide what the point of focus is for your photo and zone in on that.  If it’s a little boy unwrapping a present, the photo is about his expression not the christmas tree behind him so frame the boy, not the entire living room.  Think about what you want to stand out about the photo and choose an angle that will highlight the subject not distract from it.

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Shooting on Burst Mode

  • Anytime you’re shooting action like unwrapping presents, a New Year’s toast, someone blowing out candles, shoot on burst mode.  It might also be called continuous mode and depending on your camera and settings it will take anywhere from a couple to a dozen shots each second.  Shooting on burst mode is the perfect way to capture every expression especially in candid situations.

Out-of-focus Christmas Lights

  • Lots of folks are always asking me how to achieve a bokeh effect with Christmas lights – good news, it is super easy! Simply choose a low aperture a.k.a. fstop number and that will effectively blur whatever you are not focusing on, in this case it’s the lights.  An example?  If I’m photographing my nephew in front of our Christmas tree, I want the tree to be visible so I can set the scene, yet he is the main focus of the photograph so I would set my aperture to f2.8 and focus on his sweet little face.  The tree behind him would be out of focus and therefore the lights would attain the bokeh effect. In the photos above, all three photos are of the same scene, but the light circles grow bigger as they become more out of focus. I simply pointed my camera at a Christmas tree and turned my focusing ring just out of focus, a little out of focus and majorly out of focus.

Photographing Outdoor Lights and Decorations

  • There are a few things that are relatively difficult to photograph.  Outdoor Christmas lights are one of them.  You basically have a really bright object (the lights) against a really dark object (the house and sky), which makes a tricky situation to expose properly.    I feel like we have all been here before.  You see an amazingly gorgeous sunset and you think, ‘family photo opp!’ only to be completely disappointed by the results.  You either end up silhouetted against the sun or you use the flash and hate the unnatural outcome.  It’s the same type of deal, dark and light competing for a proper exposure.
  • Head outside during twilight when the sky is nice and blue – right after sunset, but before it gets dark.  You have a small window of time for these shots, only about twenty minutes.  Set up your camera and tripod.  Choose a low ISO number like 400.  Also choose a slow shutter speed somewhere around 1/25 of a second or slower.  Set your aperture according to your light meter and then experiment from there.  I usually set up the shot, ISO and shutter speed and then take a dozen shots adjusting my aperture by one stop (click) each time.  Then I’ll scroll through the shots, decide which I like the best and set the aperture accordingly.  This time I’ll play with the shutter speed a little bit by adjusting it a tiny bit faster or a tiny bit slower.  That way you get a good variety of exposures.

Good luck and let us know if you found any of these tips useful by posting your pics to IG and tagging us 🙂

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