All right (cracks knuckles) let’s get down to business, shall we?
Many of you are about to take some sort of Spring Break trip (super jealous over here), and you’re all about to start flooding my facebook feed with your family vacation photos. This is my effort to make those photos better! It breaks my heart to see horrible back-lit images from your adventures!*
So, we’re going to start off our lighting segment talking about vacation photos instead of the basics. It’s kinda backward, but I think this is much more time sensitive, and the next Real Talk will tell you about lighting for everyday photos of your kids/dogs/house etc. Got it? Let’s get started.
So the photo at the top there is of Jamie and I in Spain five years ago. Oooohhhh that was a good trip. Look how young we were! We were so well rested!
Anyway, the reason the photo works is because 1) the sun is in front of us (sort of), not behind us, so we are lit along with the ocean and sky behind us. If this had been sunrise instead of sunset, this photo would have never worked as the ocean and sky would have looked glorious and we would have been black silhouettes. Also, this photo works because Jamie is holding my monster camera for the selfie, not me and my weak-ass arms.
So! Let’s talk about where most people fall down on their vacation photos. What happens is they see an amazing piece of scenery and they want to take a photo of themselves or their friends in front of it — totally understandable! But if all the light is coming from the side of said scenery, trouble emerges.
So here’s how you fix that. I offer three solutions:
1) Position your subject so if they are at noon and you are at 6 (we’re talking clock positions here), the sun (or light source) needs to be between 7 and 9 or between 3 and 5. If the sun is directly behind you (at 6) your subject will be squinting (but well lit). No one likes squinty photos, so turn them just a little and shoot the scenery from an angle. This is what we did above — you’ll notice the sea is behind us at an angle — and the shadows on our faces give away the sun location. Make sense?
2) If you’re working with a camera or a phone or an iPad, simply move the focus point (usually a lit-up square) to the subject’s face — most devices will adjust to get the light right where you’re focusing.
The only problem with this approach is that while your buddy’s face is now perfectly lit, the background gets blown out, and if it’s a lighter background, you lose all the pretty details you were trying to get. So this works best when you have a darker background, or for example, the sun is coming through trees or from behind buildings etc (like above).
3) So say the scenery and the sun are on the same side and there is no forest or anything behind your subject. I took these *awesome* photos above of our family walk a few days ago to illustrate this point — please do not judge these images for their artistic value. But say there was a lovely sunset and beach behind the family. In the photo on the left, you would get the sunset but not the family. In the photo on the right, you would get the family but not the sunset. See what I mean?
Here’s how you fix that. Use the flash (like I did in the image below).
If you know me at all, you know I hate using flash — I am all about the natural light — but this is the one way to fix that horrible backlighting. By using the flash, you are getting the natural light behind your subject and you are manipulating the light of the people right in front of you. See how that works? I will have another lesson later titled Why The Flash Sucks, but this is one instance in which I give you permission to use it and gain good results.
Ok! I think that’s it! If you have questions about this, leave a comment and I’ll respond there so others can learn as well! Now go take some rad pix of your family on vacation!
*Sidenote, should anyone out there ever want to hire me as their very own personal vacation documentarian, I AM TOTALLY GAME.
** Also! Please note that later this summer I will have a post on how to take great travel photos (the difference being you documenting your entire trip and not just your friends at the beach). So keep an eye out for that!
Oh! And I almost forgot your internet share of the day! Check out these amazing photos people are taking with their iPhones! See! The gear is not the most important part!