Tips for taking brighter photos
It’s been a little while since we last talked Photography.
Today, we’ll talk, once again, about taking bright photos- even when working with limited light sources. Looking at a lot of my own images, you might think that the space where I shoot is really bright and taking pictures is a breeze. Nothing could be further from the truth. I actually struggle at times quite a bit, because of how dark our home is. I don’t have big windows or bright roomy spaces, so I gotta work with what I’ve got.
Few things that helped me the most: knowing how to work with the natural light that’s available to me by bouncing and diffusing; recognizing the best times during the day to shoot and getting familiar with Photoshop.
Good lighting is the key and natural light is ALWAYS the way to go. Remember that light is the single most important thing in photography. Here’s what you need to do: find the brightest spot in your home- like a big window or even a door (with the door, you’d obviously open it to let the light in, unless it’s a glass door, like in my case). Time of day when you take your photos actually matters quite a bit too. After you find that bright spot, observe it during different hours of the day and get familiar with it. I personally get the best light in the morning and early afternoon. In late afternoon hours, the sunlight is a bit too harsh and bright and I have to deal with a lot of shadows.
If you have no choice but shoot during a time of the day when the sun is very harsh, you can easily diffuse it. To prevent those harsh shadows and contrast, tape a blank, white piece of paper on your window or place it between your subject and your light source. You can also use a light curtain. Here are the results of diffusing the light:
Before diffusing the light.
After diffusing the light.
Before you setup for your shoot, take a good look at your light source and study it. Where is it coming from? Is it soft? Is it harsh? If it isn’t bright enough, open the window or the door. If the sunlight isn’t too strong you can even go outside. Once you understand how to work with your light, taking brighter photos will become much easier.
REFLECT THE LIGHT
Once you understand how to best position your objects and work with your light, you might want to learn how to reflect it as well. This is especially important if you have light coming only from one source/side. This is exactly the case for me- the light comes in only from the right side (usually, depending on how I setup). This means that the light doesn’t “spread” evenly across my image- that’s when a reflector and a white cardboard usually save the day. This is what my usual setup looks like (keep in mind that yours might be different):
Here you can see that this alone makes a difference in the way this image looks. Both images are unedited and were shot with the same settings. ISO 160 f/2 Shutter speed 1/125:
Your settings obviously play a big role here. I highly recommend that you get to know your camera and shoot manual (this post explains all manual settings in more detail). Your aperture controls the amount of light that travels through the lens into the film plane and it’s indicated by the f-number. The aspect of an f-stop can be a bit confusing, because as the f-stop decreases, the opening increases. For instance, an f-stop of f/1.8 will open the lens a lot wider than an f-stop of f/5.6. In other words, f/1.8 will let in a lot more light than f/5.6, the smaller the f-stop, the wider the opening, the brighter the image and the shallower depth of field.
Higher ISO settings will produce brighter images- but don’t go overboard as high ISO settings can create digital noise and turn your images grainy. Shutter speed controls the duration of exposure, meaning, it controls the speed at which the curtain (camera shutter) opens and closes. All this means is that it controls how long the light is permitted to enter your camera. Once you know how to work your triangle exposure (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) you’ll be able to tell your camera exactly how to behave as your light situation changes.
Last, but certainly not least, is the part of editing your images. My images improved SO much when I started editing them in Photoshop. The great thing about Photoshop these days is that you can get a monthly subscription for about 10 bucks a month. I was a little hesitant about the subscription at first, mainly because I believed Photoshop to be very difficult to use. It’s actually pretty straight-forward and while it can be a bit overwhelming at first, it’s totally worth getting familiar with.
There are so many helpful tutorials out there, and I personally love editing my images in Camera Raw. I’d also definitely recommend that you shoot in RAW format- that way you’ll have more control over your images. Here’s what my editing process looks like.
I open my image in Camera Raw in Photoshop. My images open in Camera Raw automatically, but you can open them in Photoshop and from there go Filter->Camera Raw Filter.
Here I adjust exposure, clarity, highlights, shadows, etc.
Sharpening and noise reduction.
Adjusting Tone Curves.
Final image. Before finishing up, I adjust my white balance (I always try to do this even when my settings were great) and lastly, I resize my images.
When it comes to editing in Photoshop, you definitely have to play around a little with different settings and see what works best for you. There are hundreds of different ways of doing things, but I think that editing images in Camera Raw is one of the easiest ways of going about it.
The best thing you can do is learn how to work with your light. Look where the shadows fall, use a reflector to even out that light and a diffuser to minimize any shadows. If you’re working with a DSLR, get to know your camera! This will give you a huge advantage.