Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let's take better pictures: finding your light

Hey!  Welcome to the first post of the series "lets take better pictures"!  I'm going to preface this by saying I know nothing about photography.  I've tried reading books and manuals, but they just confuse me.  That being said, there is going to be homework, and at some point that homework is going to include reading your manual.  Yup.

But today we're starting easy with baby steps, or, finding your light.  Most posts and books I've read concentrate on how to minimize too much light.  If that's your problem.. I'm not going to say what I want to say.  Let's just say that I'm jealous!  I live in a part of the world where there's not a ton of light.  Ever watched X Files or The Killing, or anything else shot in Seattle or Vancouver?  You can probably picture it.  Low levels of grey blue light.  Perfect for the spawning of underground music scenes and mushrooms, not so great for photos.

a nice sunny day in this neck of the woods

How do you shoot in that kind of light?  Well, that's where our first homework comes in!  Grab your camera and walk around your home, check out all the areas with windows and take some photos.  It's a good idea to do this around the time of day when you would be taking project photos.  Turn off the lights in the room so you're only getting natural light in your photos.  Oh, and big, big rule here:

Don't take photos at night!  They'll just look like crap (unless you have a whole lighting rig, in which case, dude, why are you reading this?).

Don't worry about tidying up, I'm not going to make you post these.  But throw them up on your computer and have a good look at them.  What you want is an area that has fairly even, undirectional light.  If you're outdoorsy, pull out your compass -  a room with a big north facing window is often best.

Ok, let's look at my shots to get an idea of what we're looking for:

The bedroom.  We're facing east south east here.  The light is great for a bedroom but not so good for photos.  See that flare on the window frame?  Because of the direction we're facing light shines directly in through the window, and on good days, gives us some great sunbeams.  The cats love it but it's not so good for photos.  Things look washed out when they're in the direct sun, too dark out of it.  The contrast is just too hard on the camera and beyond my photoshop fix it skills.

The bathroom, facing SSW.  Talk about flare!  This is the brightest room in the house and the one I would use if I wanted to use all the tips on other blogs about mitigating light.  But you know, it's really hard to work around a tub and toilet!

The kitchen, facing WNW.  This is the ideal spot to shoot in our house.  There's lots of windows but because of the way the house is situated there are never any sunbeams, just even diffuse light.  And with all those windows it's fairly bright even on a rainy overcast day.  It is the kitchen table, though, so it's normally covered in stuff.  And now I'm getting hungry from staring at the fruit bowl.

The tv room, or sitting room as we so pretentiously call it.  Too much Downton Abbey maybe?  It's right above the kitchen, has a smaller window, but still gets respectable light levels because the trees are thinner higher up.  This is also right next to my sewing room, so it's way more convenient.  So this is my winner!  Man do I ever hate that carpet, though!

So go, take some photos, explore your light.  Figure out what room in your house has the perfect balance of space, light, and lack of clutter for you to take better pictures.  Oh, and if you want one more piece of homework, go read this article.  It will change your life.  Um, or at least help with the photo part of it.


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  1. We're talking NO flash pictures, right?? I'll have to wait till tomorrow to do this project, as the light for our day is already disappearing. It's not even 4pm. No wonder people get depressed in the winter!! :)

    Thanks for this Chelsea.

  2. i will have to wait until thursday to do my homework. work messes up everything! :) loved this post chels! can't wait to start taking better pictures...

  3. I have to admit I haven't read my camera manual either! Since moving to the PNW I have also noticed that the sunny days are the days I sew like mad (trying to photograph as I go). I think I might need to get out an make some vitamin D every once in awhile too, so I am hoping you'll have some more great tips for taking photos in low light. ;)