Brighten up your photos like a pro


Person taking photo at sunset.
Ah, that golden glow of the sunset …Jamie Street via Unsplash

Photography is a question of light. If you have a beautiful golden sunset glow, almost every photo you take will be more beautiful than the same scene taken in the midday glare.

Most of the time, however, the difference between a good and flattering light and finding the face of your subjects covered with dense and unavoidable shadows is not so clear. But with a little practice, you will certainly know how to identify the right light, where to find it and how to get the most out of it.

Learn to distinguish hard light from soft light

There are two types of light sources in photography: hard sources and soft sources. A hard light source is usually small, direct, and casts sharp shadows – think of a bare light bulb hanging in the center of a room or a flashlight. On the other hand, a soft light source is large and often reflected, so that the cast shadows are soft and with soft edges, something like a large window or one of these gigantic panels of 39; lighting used for Hollywood movies.

For most things, soft light sources will give you better photos. The sharp shadows you get from hard light just don't look good, and things get worse because of the way the cameras work: because of the limited dynamic range they have compared to the human eye , they simply cannot save data from both. the deep shadows and bright reflections of a scene. In this way, the already hard shadows seem even harder. Unless you are deliberately looking for a dramatic effect, harsh light simply tends to draw attention to the bad areas – think of those selfies you took in the midday sun where your face looks like a mixture of ; dark shadows and bright spots, with each wrinkle, scar and line is clearly demarcated. It’s just not great.

On the other hand, similar selfies shot at sunset are spectacular. That button that was obviously obvious a few hours ago is nowhere to be found, and since it doesn't catch light and doesn't cast visible shadow, it simply blends into the rest of your skin – the soft light softens everything in place.

Person posing for the photo in two different lights.
These two photos were taken a few moments apart. One with direct sunlight (hard) and the other with beautiful indirect window light (soft). I'm gorgeous in both, but one is definitely better than the other.Harry Guinness

Understanding this distinction between hard and soft light sources will improve your photography: once you know what to look for, you will be able to consistently take great, flattering photos consistently and reliably.

Get a soft light indoors with windows

Artificial light sources – such as light bulbs, floor lamps and television screens – are, on the whole, fairly harsh light sources. They are small compared to most subjects and the light they project is direct. Think of the shadows under your eyebrows and your nose when you stand under a ceiling light – although they are ideal for lighting a room, they are terrible enough to take pictures.

But the good news is that one of the best sources of soft light is easy to find indoors: just look out the window.

The large windows are fantastic sources of soft light. Unless the sun is in sight, there will be no direct light – everything is reflected by the sky and your surroundings. In addition, the larger the window, the softer (and better) the light. This is why standing in front of a sliding glass door is the best place to take a photo inside. It doesn't matter what you shoot, whether it's a selfie, a small table from your collection of model dinosaurs, or a holiday family portrait. This is where they will get the best of themselves.

Look for shade outside

Person posing, portrait
In photography, as in the rest of your life, trees are your friends.Harry Guinness

Finding a good light outside can be a little trickier. While the sun is a gigantic ball of fire almost a million kilometers in diameter, it is so far away that it actually acts as a small source of hard, direct light here on Earth. This is why taking good photos in the midday sun is a serious challenge for photographers.

For best results, you will need to find shade. By hiding from direct sunlight, you will get more reflected light and therefore softer light. Some of the best places are under tall trees, in narrow alleys or next to tall buildings.

On cloudy or overcast days, things are easier but, if the sun is shining through the clouds, you can still end up with a fairly harsh light. You won't have to work as hard to find shade, but you will still get better results if you do.

Use the golden hours

Children fishing by the sea
Everything looks good at sunset.Harry Guinness

When the sun is closer to the horizon, the light is softer. A greater part of it is dispersed in the atmosphere, reducing the overall intensity of direct light and thus increasing the amount of reflected light. (This is why the shadows are less harsh early in the morning and late at night.) Since most of the scattering occurs in the blue spectrum, the sun also takes on this beautiful orange-red glow. It also casts the same colors on everything, which can further tie your photos together. Photographers call this time around sunrise and sunset the golden hour – and it is certainly one of the best times to take photos.

The tips above are great for taking portraits or taking a photo of a small subject, but when it comes to any outdoor scene, finding a window won't be worth it. 39; no use – in addition, it is a little difficult to position the Eiffel Tower next to one. If you want to take in beautiful scenery, the best time to do it is early in the morning or late at night. The softer sunlight does not cast harsh shadows and the golden glow adds wonderful color to everything. And, of course, it's always the perfect time to take portraits and any other type of photo.

The duration of the golden hour will mainly depend on where you are in the world and the time of year, but even taking these factors into account, it varies . Keep in mind that the light changes every minute, so the photo you take now and the one you take in 10 minutes may look different, even if you did not intend to. .

If in doubt, bring your own

Photographer's assistant helping the photographer to control the light on the swimsuit model while filming the location on the tropical beach
Managing the light is not an easy task. Especially if you are dealing with a light source that could give you melanoma.fashionstock via Deposit Photos

The last option to ensure good light is to bring your own. This is why professional photographers work with flashes and other controllable light sources. Unfortunately, flashes are difficult to obtain properly. Without modifiers such as large canvas “light boxes”, bouncing “umbrellas”, or silver reflective “beauty dishes”, flashes are just small sources of direct light. And if you think about those little flashes built into cameras and smartphones, you may already know that they give a really ugly light.

If you are just starting out and don't want to invest a few hundred dollars in a good flash setup, the best option is to use a large reflector. These are usually circular panels of reflective fabric that reflect light in the direction they face. If you have a hard light source, you can use them to reflect light onto your subject to fill in some of the harshest shadows. My favorite reflectors are the 5 in 1 reflectors which have silver, gold, white and black surfaces, as well as a translucent which can be used to block a hard light source and turn it into a soft source. Even the larger ones, like the 43-inch one linked above, collapse enough to be transported.

Learn to see the light

You don't need to take out your camera to watch the light. The next time you are in the midday sun, look at the shadows on people's faces and on the ground around you. Compare them to the shadows under a shaded tree. Or those you see on cloudy days. If you start to pay attention to the light around you even when you are not taking pictures, you will learn to see the different types of light. And when you need it, you can use it.