Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Understanding how to use light.

Hey! It's Mandy from A Sorta Fairytale & Mandy Chiappini Photography. It's been WAY too long since I've posted here at Paper Heart Camera. So... here I am... discussing one of the very most important topics when it comes to photography!

I have been a professional photographer for 3 years now. To me, it seems like forever... but honestly I'm still a newbie. However, in my 3 years of experience, I have learned SO much. And I want to share with you one of the most important lessons I have learned over the years.

One of those lessons is achieving a great shot, straight out of camera (SOOC). You might know what all the little gadgets on your DSLR mean, and you might be a genius at Photoshop. But getting a properly exposed shot SOOC is so important.

And how do we do this? LIGHTING LIGHTING LIGHTING! And of course, understanding the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed & ISO). But seriously, a lot of people e-mail me and ask me how I always have such bright vibrant photos. It isn't the editing that I do, it's the lighting that I used when I took the photo in camera. Not only will understanding lighting enhance your pictures, it will cut down on your editing time profusely! Time is valuable.

When it comes to light, the general rule of thumb is to always have your light source in FRONT of your subject. If the light source is behind them, you will have trouble capturing any light in their eyes. *light bulb moment* - if you want to get those gorgeous catch lights in your subjects eyes, make sure their face is WELL LIT. You'll also have trouble focusing and capturing detail if the light source isn't in the right place.

One thing to note: do not ever put your subject in the direct sunlight. Squinty eyes and harsh shadows are never desirable. There are a specific few techniques in which you might use the direct sunlight (i.e. sunflare). But for the most part, make sure that you have a significant amount of light (preferably shade if outside) on the person's face. (right by a window if you're inside).

Here is an example of what not to do with lighting:

Could I try to save this photo with lots and lots of fill light and selective dodging & burning? Sure. But would it be worth it? Not at all. This picture should be thrown out.

Here are some examples of properly exposed photos SOOC:

So why was this properly exposed? Well my camera was on manual mode so I had complete control over my settings and the exposure triangle, I used my meter and my histogram. But first and foremost, this picture turned out properly exposed SOOC because of where the light was in relation to my subject.  This was taken in the middle of the day so there was light everywhere and we were in an open abandoned building. What you can't see, is behind me, there is a BIG open wall that was allowing lots of light to flood onto her face. If she was facing the other way, could I have achieved this shot? No. It would have been {possibly} salvageable, because there was definitely light coming in from all directions, but the darkest part of the building was behind her. And that is where I want it.

Make sense?

Editing time: Less than 5 minutes! All I had to do was a little sharpening and quick color popping and that's it! Oh, and for fun I converted it to B&W. :)

Here are a couple of other examples of a properly exposed photo SOOC:

 I had her in the doorway so that she wouldn't be washed out with TOO much light, but I still had her facing outward toward the light source.

This was taken out in the open, but in the shade. There was buildings completely surrounding us. So the sun was blocked out... perfect!

So to reiterate, the MOST important thing to understand as a photographer - is lighting. Using the light properly will save 90% of your photos. You will find you are spending so much less time in Photoshop trying to correct your exposure if you can just capture that great SOOC shot!


  1. You're a genius Mandy - I want to be you when I grow up.

  2. It was a great post but I do not agree with all of it. There are some really great opportunities to get a creative exposure and an excellent shot with the light being behind your subject. While it can go horribly wrong it also go VERY right. Also it seem to be a popular trend to have a bright background as far as professional photography goes.
    With all of the different styles of photography it's not correct to say that ONE way is wrong to light a subject. While I prefer your way of shooting(love your portfolio) I think there should be another post about creating your own lighting...using the sun or a lighting system to get an exposure and a style that's all your own.

  3. Great post Mandy! I can't wait to learn more when I finally get my camera!

  4. Chelsea Pearl - you are absolutely right! There really are some awesome techniques you can try out in different lighting circumstances. This was just more of a "general rule of thumb" post!

  5. Oh my gosh great photos! And such pretty edits.. Thanks for the Tips.

  6. i am so glad i found you! i love photography...wish i had the camera to start trying with it!



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