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Friday, January 28, 2011

Cameras and Cawfee Tawk Tuesday: A Basic Lesson in Natural Light

Happy Tuesday and welcome back to Cawfee Tawk!

As a natural light photographer, it is important for me to be able to see and find light no matter where I'm shooting or when I'm shooting, and this poses a special challenge during these fun wintery months. (snow anyone?) Some of you may be feeling a bit "stuck" inside these days, longing for warmer days so you can get outside and take beautiful photos of your family and friends. Maybe you're frustrated, feeling like you can't get great shots this time of year because it's cold and we're stuck inside. Well, I'm hoping this post shows you otherwise.

In some ways, shooting indoors is even better than shooting outdoors! If you can find the light and use it correctly, you can take wonderful photographs, and when you are inside, using window light, there is no question as to where the light is. It's right there, coming through the window! So it's just a matter of where to position your kiddos. (or parents, or sister, or friends, or objects- whatever!)

First things first- pull up that shade (get the full light), get close to that window and experiment. If you go to the window even now, (go ahead, I'll wait) you might be able to see where the light goes from being nice and bright to where it "falls off" and the room darkens. Be sure to get your subjects close enough to the window so that they are not in the dark spots of the room. Window light is beautiful, but doesn't reach very far, so stay close.

"So where should I put my subject and where should I stand?" you ask. Good question, and there really is no right or wrong position here. You can do lots of wonderfully different things here just by changing where you are standing with respect to your window light. Let me show you.

I took my kids to my favorite window in the house to shoot a few examples. In most cases, the child was sitting about 4-6 ft away from my window.

Now, first I sat Brady facing the window, dead on. This is how most people tend to shoot- put the light right behind you and have your subject facing the light. This is called "front lighting". Indoors this works beautifully, and you can see the "catchlights" in her eyes if you look closely (those little reflections of the window in her eyes- love that!). Outdoors in bright light it's a little tougher, as you can imagine lots of squinting once that window turns into the SUN! But indoors it's nice, her skin looks soft, the colors are bright and her face is lit up. Wonderful. (btw... no editing here, just sharpened for the web, so what you see is what comes straight out of camera) You can even see how the background is very dark- the light falls very fast, rendering most everything behind her dark- love it.

Next, I turned Brady 90 degrees on her chair. The window is now to my left and Brady's right and you can see how the light hits the right side of her face and then quickly "falls off". This creates wonderful drama and contrast to the photo now, while still putting light in her eyes. If you compare the two images, you will see that the colors of the "front lit" shot are a little flatter, but maybe a little "safer". Want drama? Go for some side lighting.

What about backlighting? We are told early on never to put the light source behind our subjects. It will render them black. But sometimes this is a wonderful idea, as it can create a beautiful story and image. Here I put Mikey up on the window seat (the heater cover!) and shot him doing his new favorite thing- staring out the window at the fire trucks coming out of the station across the street. Not the best "portrait" but still a wonderful memory for me as I will look at this years from now and remember how he'd spend his time there. (btw... must apologize for the terribly smudged and dirty window- he really does sit there all the time, faced pressed against that window, breath fogging it up, fingers smudging it- ugh!)

I do want to show you an example of backlighting that does not involve a darkened face. I shot with the sun behind my subject here but let the background be a bit overexposed (I can teach you how to do this in another post if you'd like) so her face wasn't dark. You can see the beautiful "rim light" that touches the back of her hair, separating her from the background- and she still has catchlights in her eyes! How, with the sun behind her? Easy! I wore a white shirt and the sun was reflecting off me! (or you can use a reflector, but who here has one and who here has someone to hold it for them???)

The bottom line here is PLAY PLAY PLAY! Experiment with the light and see what you like best. It all comes down to what you like in your images. I love the clarity of front lit photos, but love the contrast and drama that side lighting brings, so I tend to shoot a little in between. Like here- Brady is about 45 degrees from the window, a little front lit and a little side lit. She's got some great shadows (which add depth and contrast) but lots of light across her whole face. Now... if I can just get her to stop making that goofy face!
But that's for next time!
See you next Tuesday when I'll share the first of my "Top Ten" lists!
Until then, how about a homework assignment? Find a nice large window in your home, find a willing subject, and experiment with the light- try front lighting, side lighting, back lighting, and everything in between. Then send me a comment letting me know what you discovered and what you liked best. Or better yet, send me some photos! I'd love to see what you find and I LOVE hearing from you!
Have an awesome Tuesday and happy shooting!
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Anonymous said...

jen, this is great. don't worry. i thought mikey was looking out at snow. :o) maybe you can venture out later and get some icicle pics for us.

Jen Lebo said...

Georgeanne! Thanks! I am off now to go clean my windows. Hee hee!

Anonymous said...


courtneyc said...

you, my dear, are a fabulous teacher. This is just what I needed. I haven't had much of a desire to use the camera lately, but you made me want to pick it up again. Love the homework assignment, love the lesson, love YOU! Thanks, Jen!!
...and never apologize for Mikey's "fogged glass" art work, cherish it. That's a beautiful photo.;)

Katie said...

LOVE this Jen! I can't wait to try your ideas and I will definitely send you pics once I do! Brady's front lit pic is just so beautiful and Mickey's back lit is definitely a story teller. I always felt compeltely inadequate with a camera. My pics are always awful and I never know what to do! I hope to learn from you! :) Thank you so much!

Jen Lebo said...

Courtney, love your insight, and love that you are shooting! Your work inspires me! And you're right- I know I'll cherish that Mikey shot forever! Katie, get to it girl- your kids are way too cute not to have a camera in their faces all the time anyway! The only way to get camera jitters out is to just keep shooting. Open the window shades and shoot away! Can't wait to see the results!

Katie said...

Ok... I tried it and LOVE it!!!


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