Photography is ALL about light! I have photographed families here in Charleston, SC since 2012. Below are the “rules” that I use for outdoor sessions using natural light. Keep in mind every person has their own photography style and lighting they prefer and these are not hard and fast rules!
When shooting outdoors choose places where you have some shady options. You are looking for nice, even light. Direct, bright sunlight is not ideal for most photos unless you’re going for a more artistic shot. Shoot in the morning or evening within two hours of sunset. Have you heard of the “golden” hour? There’s a reason! The time before sunset provides beautiful, warm light that is ideal for portraits!
I understand that you will not always be shooting under those ideal conditions! What if you want to take some photos outside and it’s midday with no shade? Midday light can be harsh! The following session was taken around 1:00pm only because I had to work around schedules and some crazy weather. I positioned everyone so the sun is to their back and left side a bit. You can see their shadows on the ground in front of them. If they were facing the sun their faces would have harsh shadows, “hot spots,” and they’d be squinty.
An even better option – putting them in the shade of the pier to create nice, even light.
Here are two photos I took just to prove my point! The first one I had the girls face the sun. You can see how their are shadows around their eyes and Molly on the right is very squinty! For the second photo (which was taken immediately after) I simply turned them around and put them closer to the house to make use of the shade so that the light is even and more flattering.
Sometimes I end up doing photo sessions later in the morning than I would like. But you’re working around kiddos naps and family schedules so you have to make the most of it! This kind of lighting situation used to terrify me! But I live at the beach so after practicing I gained confidence. For this session I made sure the sun remained at my clients back or side. It still makes for great photos, just a completely different look than the golden hour photos I posted above.
When the clouds are out there’s a new rule! I turn my clients toward where the sun is. Thick clouds act as a natural filter and make the skin look so beautiful and smooth. So don’t think cloudy days are bad for taking photos!
What if you have speckled light where it’s patchy with shady spots and hot sun spots? I do the same thing if I was on a bright beach. I took these shots one after another and just turned the girls around so the speckled light wasn’t on the front of them. In the second image you can still see the speckled light behind them on the house which is a little distracting but at least the light on their faces is even.
Another example of speckled light where I kept the sun behind my subjects.
For indoor photography I use my camera with no flash. So I have to use windows and doors for my light source. Make sure your subject is near the window. On a cloudy day with small windows you won’t be able to get too far from the windows. But if you have a lot of natural light pouring in on a sunny day you will have more options for posing as you can get away from those windows and doors.
And the same goes for newborn session – I’ll put my babies on the floor or in a basket near a window. Natural light makes the best images! Just one disclaimer – you want your subject in the light, but not in a direct patch of bright light like a cat 🙂 You still want that nice even light which is most flattering.
Okay! Now go out and practice! You’ll start to get a feel for what style of light you’re drawn to and your editing style. Try shooting in different lighting set ups so you feel comfortable in any situation.
My LAST bit of advice? Learn how to use your fancy camera on manual mode. You are smarter than your camera and can learn how to tell your camera exactly what to do to achieve the final result you want. You can read more about that here:
If you live in the Charleston area and would like a one-on-one lesson I now offer them! You can get more information here. Or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to photograph you and your family!