Take Better Pictures With Your Crappy Camera / Part II

In Part II of the never ending series (read: until I run out of ideas) called “Take Better Pictures With Your Crappy Camera”, we will be covering lighting. But if you missed the first lesson, you may have to stay after class . Or you could just click here —–> Part I – Stop Putting Your Subject in the Middle. Now on with the show.

Part II – That’s Some Ugly Light

Yup. Your camera comes with a flash. Good for you. But for the love of everything holy, stop using it so much. It’s ugly and not flattering. Case in point – A picture of my lovely sisters. Beautiful girls? Sure. But that on-camera flash isn’t helping them any. It doesn’t create any depth or shape to their faces. It’s just shot-gunning them with straight-on light.

Sisters with direct flash

Plus we can’t see where they are. Are they in a bar? Outside? At the Opera? Who knows, because the flashed faces are all that camera can see. Here’s a little tip. Turn off your flash. See what happens. Yeah, you may have to hold the camera a little more steady to avoid motion blur, but today’s cameras can do a whole lot with little. Point-and-Shoot cameras usually come with different modes other than ‘Auto’. Try them all out, see if one of them would be better in this situation. Or just turn off your flash. If my sister turned off her flash in this shot, we might have better ambient light to work with and we might be able to see some background. 99% of the time, professional photographers never use direct flash. It’s horrible ugly light which creates harsh shadows. So give it a shot. Turn off that flash and go nuts.

Now if you want to take things further, look for better light. So if you want to take photos of things other than your buddy’s epic keg stand, pay attention to where your light is and where it’s coming from. You can create nice light in a number of ways, but what’s the cheapest? Natural light. That big ball of fire in the sky is gotta be good for something, no? But listen, sticking your subject under the hot mid-day sun is just as bad as shooting them in the face with direct flash. The light is harsh and the shadows are sharp. So what do you do? Find open shade. That means find a spot where your subject is in the shade, but still in full view of the sky. Because the sky creates some really nice soft light. Or shoot your subject by a large window. The same concept applies. Here, take a look at this gem:

Woman in the treesThis subject was put in open shade, in the shadow of a willow tree. See? No harsh shadows. Just nice soft light. For free.

OK, so you mastered natural light but you need an extra kick or added light. What can you do if you don’t have the green to get some heavy studio lights? Get a reflector and bounce light onto your subject. Yes, light can bounce. Let’s move on. In the next shot, I used a reflector to bounce that late evening sun onto her face so she wasn’t too dark. It adds that extra kick you need.

Woman in late evening sunAnd if all else fails and you can’t find free light, and if you have a DSLR with a hotshoe (the thing on the top where a flash would sit), buy a cheap flash and a radio trigger. That what, you can create your own light anytime you want. In the dark, in the studio, wherever you want. You can even stick that flash (or called a strobe) on your camera and bounce the light off the ceiling or nearby wall. But again, never directly at your subject.

Family portrait in winter outsideSo to wrap things up, so you can stop reading and go out and shoot, the smaller the light source (i.e. the sun, direct flash) the harder the light and the harder the shadows. The bigger the light source (i.e. the sky, light bouncing off the ceiling) the softer the light and the softer the shadows. Pretty easy concept, I know. But you’ll still probably screw it up somehow.

If you want to get into flash or strobes, check out Strobist. There, you’ll find everything you need to know about using flash.

Next in this series –

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  1. strong words, very beautiful girls, great pictures, what can I say?

  2. […] Part I – Stop Putting Your Subject in the Middle Part II – That’s Some Ugly Light […]

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