What Makes a Good Photograph Excellent? – Part 3

by Brittany Horton on September 10, 2010

In two of my last posts I discussed two of the elements of how to make a good photograph, excellent. I started off with two of the four important fundamentals of photography, the composition and the gaze, and today I am going to go over the third: lighting.

Lighting is one of the most difficult aspects of a photograph, as in many situations we either do not have an ample amount of light to take a great photograph or we have too much. Not all excellent photographs are taken where there is the perfect light or scene, so we have to work around the light we are given and manipulate it. I am going to walk you through a few difficult lighting situations that you may find yourself in and give you some pointers of how to improve the light in your setting.

I am a natural light fan. I would prefer to step outside to get a portrait rather than use lights inside the house or office. I believe that the sun provides a very naturally beautiful light. Plan to take photographs on an overcast day if you can; direct sunlight is usually very harsh and an overcast will give you great contrast and colors in your photograph. Clouds also provide for nice backdrops in scenery images. Also try to avoid going out to take photographs at the peak of the day, between 11:00 and 2:00, when the sun is straight above.Photo of a soft box for any flash that you can buy on Amazon.com for use as a softener for your flash in photographs

But what if it is too bright outside? Sometimes the sun is so bright that it makes your shadows very harsh and unpleasant. In these situations, I try to put my subject in the shade to block as much of the bright rays, and I use a flash to fill in some of the shadows. If you are able to, get a soft-box for your flash (You can buy one at Amazon.com), or make one yourself (Do-It-Yourself Photography has some great tips on how to make your own flash soft-box).  A soft-box on your flash will soften the light provided by the flash giving your subject a nice touch of extra light rather than more harsh shadowed lines. This will help fill in the shadows on your subject in harsh light situations; it will also be useful in many other situations.Photo of White Foam Core Board that you can buy on Amazon.com for use as reflectors in photographs

Another trick I use outside or inside is a white foam core board. These can be bought at almost any art supplies store, and even sometimes in your local grocery store. White foam core board can be used as a reflector, to reflect light into shadowed areas on your subject, as a light block, blocking light from your subject, as well as an impromptu background. There are many items that you can find around your house that will allow you to play with your light, a mirror, hand-held or wall sized, car window reflectors, and even tin foil from your kitchen. All of these items have a reflecting capability and can help manipulate your light, indoors and outside.Photo of Car Reflectors that you can buy on Amazon.com for use as reflectors in photographs

Just because I prefer pictures outside, doesn’t mean that you have to take your pictures outdoors, nor does it mean that an excellent photograph can’t be taken indoors. They can. Indoor photography is still very popular, and very challenging. Indoors adds a whole new element to photography, the temperature and color of the light. Many times when we buy light bulbs for our office or house, we don’t always pay attention to the type of light that we are buying, LED or fluorescent are two popular ones. These two types of lights have different temperatures and create different colors in a photograph. Have you ever taken a picture indoors and realized the it is very yellowish/orange? Or that it was very bluish/green? This is caused by the florescent and LED lights, LED lights creating the yellow/orange tent while Fluorescent creating the blue/green tint. If you have both types of these lights in your setting, you will have multiple colors in your photograph.

When taking a photograph indoors, try to use just one light source; this way you wont mix both temperatures in one image. You will also want to use some of the other techniques we discussed for outdoor photography, a flash with a soft-box, and reflectors and foam board can come in handy. For example, using your flash on in indoor portrait with your soft-box will create a well-rounded shadowed image. Or, using a mirror to reflect the bathroom lights onto your portrait will allow you to have two light sources that are the same temperature and color. Don’t forget that just because your are inside, that doesn’t mean you are stuck to only hand-made light sources. You can open a window while you are inside, and use the strong light from the sun as your main lighting source.

I am not going to go into night photography or studio lighting today, as both of those are completely different post topics. There are many things about light that can be manipulated and arranged, go out and play with the light one day, on any subject, and see what you can do, I have gotten some amazing shots just testing different light scenarios. Hopefully when you are on scene of your next photography trip, you will remember some of these tips to help you take an excellent photograph.

If you ever need any assistance with any of your photography needs, you can always call us here at Content Solutions, and we can come help! Look for my last post on this topic in a few weeks, where I will cover the fourth element to an excellent photograph: the equipment.

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