So here’s where I’m going to give you the biggest, most important tip of taking great photos. FIND THE BEST LIGHT.
That sounds easy enough, right? Well it’s not always the case. And if you have ever turned on the lights in your house to make a photo look better, then you are doing it wrong.
And I’m going to note here that this post is talking strictly about natural, available light (not flash). In my opinion, natural light photos are prettiest (yes, I’m biased).
So first, we’re gonna talk about the direction of light, and how that makes your subject look. Remember when you were a kid? And you would shine the flashlight from below your face? Or from above your face? And how the shadows made you look spooky? Yeah. You don’t want that.
The most flattering (and easiest) light, is generally coming in at a parallel to the subject’s face (whether it be directly in front of the person or off to the side). If you think about it, this is why photos taken in dark restaurants with the light hanging above look so bad.
Now, let’s talk about the sun. The same rule applies! The most flattering light is when the sun is not directly above you, but coming at you from the side. This is exactly why outdoor photos look best when taken near sunrise or sunset (assuming you are following the rules we discussed earlier ). The lower the sun, the more flattering the angle of light.
So those are general principles. Let’s put this into real family scenarios though, shall we?
Say you are having a great day with your family at the park, and it’s noon and the sun is right up high in the sky, and you want a great shot of the group. What do you do? The sun position is awful, creating terrible shadows and everyone is squinting.
Here’s how to fix it: Move the entire family into a shaded spot (like I did with the girl above). 1) Whatever is creating the shade is blocking the sun from above, letting in light more evenly and 2) You can always find shade in Minnesota. What? Yes.
How is that possible?
It’s possible because here in Minnesota, we are so far north (and the sun is so far south) that the north side of any building has shade. Seriously. Try it. So just find the north side of a structure, put your family there, and take your photos.
Ok, now here is the lesson I *really* want you all to take. If you are INSIDE shooting photos of your friends and family, this is what you should do (during daylight).
1. Turn off the house lights. These lights photograph yellow or green and the shadows are terrible.
2. Move everyone near a big window — and have them face the window (this will work even if you cannot turn off the lights).
3. Stand with your back to the window, and photograph them like that. I promise, you will get better pictures.
Above is an example. The photo on the left was shot in the middle of a room with a skylight above the pair. The bride’s face looks great because, well, a) she’s gorgeous, but b) her head is tilted so the light is hitting her cheeks and eye evenly. The guy though? See the shadows under his eyes and nose? That’s what you want to avoid.
In the photo on the right, there is a large window directly behind me, and you can see the skintones on both subjects is great. I should also note both of these images have zero photoshop retouching.
Another option, if there are not a lot of windows, is to put your subjects just inside of a doorway, and you stand outside the doorway and photograph them like that (which is what I did in the image above). By having them covered, the light is not coming from above, but from directly behind you. Voila!
So next time you are out to eat with friends or at a party and someone wants to snap a photo, don’t let everyone just pose where they are standing. Simply ask to move near a window — you will be amazed at how much this helps.