We are in a four part series of basic lighting tips. These "tips" are by no means in depth discussions about lighting in photography as that topic has many books written about it. These posts are just basic tips that you can apply while out and about photographing your children, family, and friends.
It is best to have your DSLR camera on manual while incorporating these techniques so you can accurately light your subject. If you are using a phone camera or other camera on automatic, the camera's light meter will read the brightest part of the image and adjust the exposure for that area. So, you will most likely not have the best image in regards to lighting.
Our last post spoke about making sure your subject is the brightest part of the image-which makes sense, right? Our eyes will gravitate toward the brightest part of the image, so if your background is brightest, then your eyes will go there first. You want your eyes to go toward your subject first, then move around the image, so just be sure your subject is the brightest part.
Tip 2-Your image should not have overblown highlights.
This is in keeping with the first tip-as mentioned above. If your image has overblown highlights, then your eye will go there first!
What is an overblown highlight?
A highlight is an area that can be called the "brights" in your image and can be the sky or a light, or even just an area that the light is shining into. If you place your subject in front of that space and your camera is on automatic, then your camera's light meter will meter off that area and determine the exposure based on readings from that area. Most likely, then, your subject will be in the dark. Overblown means that that light area is practically white-there are no details in the highlight at all, and you can not see any other shapes, objects, or people in that area. It is just white.
But isn't that also an artistic way to photograph?
Yes, it can be! There was a trend in photography that showed overblown highlights, lifestyle images, and a very clean, modern, look. Since photography is an art, once you know the "rules", you can certainly break them. There are basic fundamentals in photography, just like any other craft, and once you know the fundamentals, you can certainly expand on those and create your own "art. But, it is extremely important to know the fundamentals first, just like any other trade. You would not want to just start wiring someone's house without first knowing the fundamentals, would you?
Below is a great example of blown highlights. You can see the highlights on the girls hair, which means there was light coming from the side and behind. The light behind is bright, not necessarily overblown, but very bright, which for me, distracts me from looking at the subjects. The brightest part is the area on the bridge itself, which produces sharp shadows and is distracting as well.
Their faces are darker than the background sky, which should not be the case.
So, how do I fix that?
You can avoid blown out highlights by either adding an external light source-a flash or strobe that is set off to the left or right of your camera, or by placing your subjects in another area that has natural light coming from the front (the sun, for example), and a darker background in the back. (under a tree, so the tree is the darker area)
In the following image, you can see some highlights in the back-we were in the forest but the sun was very bright shining through the trees. We used an strobe light, which lightened up the subjects, and I set my camera settings to meter off the light that was on their faces.
Thus, you have a pleasant lighting arrangement that highlights the subjects!
What if I do not have an external light source? Will my camera's flash, or the pop up flash on my camera work?
I would not recommend using a pop up flash or phone camera flash for two reasons. First, the pop up flash or phone flash is directly pointed at your subject which produces harsh light, deep shadows, and usually red eyes.
The better option is to find an area that has open shade. Which means, an area where there is no mottled light (spaces of light shining through that look like circles-as in the sun shining through a tree). Look for an area where the sun is blocked, but you have good light coming on your subject's faces.
This image is a good example of open shade. The sun was behind a cloud, and the subject is up against a tin wall. No highlights in the back, and his face is evenly lit.
So, look for an area that has a good background behind it, an area under a tree with no mottled light, and/or another space that provides a good light on your subject's face and a darker area behind, and you will have a great lit image!
Check back next week when we will be discussing Erratic, Mottled Light and Shadows!