Have you been practicing your photography?
If you've read my previous blog about photography, then you should be familiar with the Rule of Thirds and some basic compositional strategies. Those tips are all fine and dandy and will help you improve your ability to point and snap a shot, but there's another detail that needs to be illuminated upon to help you shoot even better images: Light.
Light is one of the most important aspects of photography. Bad lighting can make a photo, well, bad. But great lighting? Well, that can almost make a photograph come to life. Good lighting won't save a bad photograph, but it can make a good one ten times better.
There are a number of different rules and techniques for lighting photographs (especially portraits) that range from the easy, beginner-levels to much more complicated set-ups. Here I'll focus on simple lighting strategies. From knowing how to optimize natural sunlight to soft box set-ups and even on-camera flashes.
- On-Camera Flashes - Let's be honest on this one, on-camera flashes on most DSLRs are pretty terrible. But if you want blown out faces, harsh shadows and red-eye, then they'll work perfectly for you. It's hard to avoid using the installed flash on a lot of cameras, but you can make it work better for you. Soften the light with a diffuser or bounce it of off something (I used to use a bent white business card to bounce my flash to the ceiling when I had no other options). My suggestion is to spring for a decent mounted flash that you can reposition. They aren't very expensive and will save you a lot of trouble.
- Soft Boxes & Studio Lighting - If you're looking to do anything near professional portrait photography, you should invest in a few soft boxes and fill lighting tools. A common strategy is to have two lights varying in intensity in front of and slightly above your subject, one on either side. This creates a nice soft gradation of light across your subject's face, bringing out their features and eliminating harsh shadows.
- Natural Light - Some of the best photographs are lit naturally by the sun. The few hours surrounding noon are often the worst to photograph outdoors because the sun creates such harsh shadows. Cloudy days can help diffuse sunlight just as a diffuser would a camera flash, but use good judgment on the amount of overcast. The "Golden Hours" that you may have heard some photographers refer to are during sunrise and sunset when the the sun low, allowing it's light to travel differently through the atmosphere, creating beautiful golden and crimson skies.