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Learning Week - Day 2: Let here be (de)Light! | Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Family Photographer

Updated: Jul 17, 2018

Welcome to Day 2 of the Learning Week – where I share my top 7 tips for setting up for capturing successful imagery at entry level.

The aim is to introduce you to my methods and opinion and I would love to hear yours – or take any questions.

When putting together the list of subjects to cover this week, I was torn between so many.

A few didn’t quite make the cut, but today’s topic is just too crucial to miss out: Light!

The process of Photography is essentially “painting with light”.

The word itself is derived from Greek: “photos” = “light” and “graphe” = “drawing.”


In photography light is everything (well, a LOT).

The more advanced equipment allows you to work with limited light or you may choose to get creative with shadows and a moodier ‘look’ and go dark voluntarily.

You may find that you get blurry and smudged ‘in motion’ images and one of the reasons why this might be happening is that you do not have enough light for the camera to be fast enough to capture the image (it is taking the time to soak up as much light as it needs – if in AUTO mode) to ‘expose’ the image correctly.

The way to resolve this is make sure your subject is in as much light as possible.

There is a neat trick on the iPhone (I am not sure how this works on other phones’ cameras), which a few of my friends were surprised to learn, so I figured it might be worth sharing with you here.

When taking a photo on your phone, you can touch the screen to select the focus point.

This will also select the point of ‘exposure’ – where the camera will ‘meter’/evaluate for the amount of light coming in. So if you press on a dark area, chances are, this will make the camera compensate and ‘blow out’ the whole picture. You can tone this down by dragging the little ‘sun’ slider down (or up!) with your finger to get the desired look/exposure.

With the more advanced cameras, you have a lot more control about how much light is entering your image, they are also (likely to be) a lot better at compensating for a darker environment or a faster-moving subject.

And my guess, if you are shooting in manual mode on an SLR, you definitely know all about your metering methods and what adjustments are required in order to make the image brighter or darker.

If taking a portrait indoors, what you want to do is get your subject facing the light source to get the ‘catchlights’ in their eyes, outside I prefer to shoot ‘into’ the light, with the sun behind the subject, but also being careful not to underexpose too much, which can add unsightly greys and unrecoverable shadows to the face.

I work with natural light 99% of the time; when shooting indoors, I try to find the most light-filled room in the house and position the subject near a natural light source, switching off any artificial lighting, as it can cast some undesired colors onto the skin. You will struggle to find any (apart from wedding dance) images of mine taken with a flash – especially from the more recent selection. I think familiarity with artificial light is brilliant and a great knowledge to have, but I try to work with the natural sources as much as possible as my first choice.

Lit au naturel - how beautiful and dewy is their skin!

Ironically, overabundant light is not always the most desirable set up, so shooting at the beach in full sun is a challenge (see my next session blog post about our adventures on the one day of Summer last weekend).

However, always challenge yourself to make the most of a situation. Bright, direct sunlight can be great for playing with shadows, ‘halo’ effect and making it look like you are in Majorca (unless you really are in Majorca and then you don’t really need to challenge yourself).

Check that cheeky sun flare popping in to say 'hello' in bottom left corner!

It is generally accepted in the world of photography, that the best natural light is seen about an hour before sunset – the so-called Golden Hour. It shines that gorgeous golden glow onto the skin and is diffused to distribute the soft light evenly. The golden hour is stunning in the summer, in Scottish summer, that falls on approximately 8PM, which is not ideal for family photography, but I am determined to experiment more with this lovely look this summer, so watch this space!

There is also the elusive ‘Blue Hour’ – 20-30 minutes before sunrise, but when the sun rises at 5AM in Scotland at the moment – who’s got time for that?

You might! Tell me how you find it (the time and ‘The Hour’).

Light can set the mood to your image. It can be bright and airy, or dark and moody. The setting can dictate the choice, but I have seen some wonderful examples of unexpected subjects shot in light or dark styles, creating a whole different effect altogether.

Experimenting with light sources and positioning can give you wonderful effects and using it to your advantage correctly can result in a prize shot.

Tonight you get homework! I am now intrigued by the Blue Light, though, may wait for the shorter winter mornings to search for it myself:

  • Capture the catchlights in your subject’s eyes

  • Shoot a backlit image – can you see the glow around your subject?

  • Bonus Points: Catch the Blue Hour

The magical diffusion of the Golden Hour

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