Photography tips – ray of light

I have had comments on my use of lighting, so I thought I would do a post about that.  I had done a tip about shooting in full sun already, but I will just do a quick post about how to watch the lighting and also processing tips.

If you are outside, wait for later in the day or take pictures early in the day.  Once the sun becomes high in the sky, it adds harsh shadows and darkens the eyes to the point where they are just dark sockets.  Not flattering at all.  But you can use a reflector or fill flash.  See the shooting in full sun post on that.  In shooting outside, the BEST possible circumstances is a brightish cloudy day.  The light is filtered and not harsh, and it works so well.

The best way to use natural light when shooting indoors is to put your subject facing a window or open door.  This allows you to be able to take a good picture in low light situations.  I usually need to work at high ISO’s (800-1600), low shutterspeeds (1/100-1/200) and wide open apertures (around f 2.0) in the wintertime.  You really have to nail your exposure at these settings or you can get some pretty noisy pictures.

Up here in the north, daylight is scarce in the wintertime.  After having some bad days last winter, I decided to bite the bullet and get a flash unit.  This is an area I will be learning in the coming months, as this week I acquired a SB-600 Speedlight for my Nikon D50.  I should have probably gotten a SB-800, but hindsight being what it is…  Once I get that puppy figured out I will put a tip post about how to use it.  For now, I know they work, just now how!  The basic premise with these type of flash units is that you can angle the flash head to bounce the light off of walls, ceilings, or even a reflector to try to replicate the look of natural lighting.  You also have the option to remotely fire your flash off your camera.  Unfortunately I can’t do that with my D50, so when I upgrade my camera someday that will be a very nice tool to have.

Okay, onto processing pictures.  I tend to prefer a lighter look with more cool tones than warm tones.  The things that I usually do in processing a photo:

1.  Lighten the picture in curves or levels, bringing up the midtones (Curves – the middle of the arch and Levels – move the middle slider left).

2.  Add a brightness/contrast adjustment layer and increase contrast, but make sure you don’t have blowouts where the detail is erased and basically turns white.  Since this sometimes adds a bit of a yellow cast to the picture, next I…

3.  Add a color adjustment layer.  Usually I tone down the yellow and add cyan.  In Elements, go to Enhance -> Adjust Color -> Color Variations.  I usually adjust down the amount of the color correction applied (see the slider on the bottom left).

4.  When everything looks good, I flatten the image and then using the burn tool, I make it big and set it at around 25% and go around the outside of the picture.  Essentially this adds a vignette and puts the subject in the light.


My best advice is to just watch how light falls on a person with no camera in your hand.  Look at how the light hits their eyes, how it shadows their face, is there more light behind them or in front of them and how different lighting situations look.  Once you have observed these elements without your camera, you can start creating well-lighted shots with your camera.


I post photography and Photoshop tips (nearly) every Saturday, so check back for more or browse my archives under Photography Tips.  I’m open to content suggestions, so if there is an area you are interested in, just leave a comment.

4 Replies to “Photography tips – ray of light”

  1. OK, from the title I thought you were going to be talking about how to capture cool sunflare. This is a great post, don’t get me wrong–I totally am going to use some of these tips, but what can you tell me about sunflare. I SO want some of those dramatic flares in my photos, but I rarely seem to get it right.

  2. Alissa, I am still learning how to capture sunflare. I never seem to get it right either. If I figure it out…I will share!

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