Finding the light

Capturing Beautiful, Natural Light

For those who've studied with me before you will know how much I love shooting in natural light. It is essential for all of my photography and I very, very rarely use a flash or any kind of artificial light.

I've spent years and years learning about light, so if you've taken a course with me before, take this opportunity to revist the topic. Spend some time playing with your camera in different settings and looking at how the light catches objects and people in different ways. Take some photos that you don't intend to share on Instagram!

Have you been making great use of it? Have you experienced some really magical light outside? Is there anything you need to practise? Maybe you have a question for me in the Facebook Group.

If you haven't learnt about Natural Light before I think today is going to be an exciting lesson for you!

Let's start with my video.

Exercises with light

The first thing I want you to do today is turn off your flash on your phone and your camera. For the rest of this course we are going to be shooting in natural light.

We're going to start small, and build up. You'll need somewhere to practise, so the next thing you need to do is to find yourself one or two "happy spots" for photography in your own home or workplace.

I call them happy spots, because once you've found one you'll be able to keep coming back to it to practise your photography. The main thing you need is a window with some space in front of it - is there a piece of furniture you could move for a while? You'll need something to put objects on to practise with. Tables close to windows and mantelpieces in rooms with big windows are great but you can also set up a space on the floor near a window if you don't have a suitable table to use. Now, turn off any lights in the room and in the hallway.

If you are photographing top down (for a flat lay style image) then you can position your things in front of the window but for anything else you should have the window to the side of you, so the light is coming across your subjects.

As the light is only coming in from one side then you might find you get dark shadows appearing. If this happens then you can use a reflector or a white piece of card to bounce the light back onto your subject.

In addition to finding your happy spots near windows you also need to become aware of how the light changes throughout the day and throughout the year. Taking a photograph at 8am in August is very different to taking a photograph at 8am in December for example.

It may sound really obvious to talk about light changing as the day or year goes by. Of course it does! But this is really important to remember when you are taking photographs. Once you become tuned into finding the light for your photography you will begin to notice it all the time, and when you see happy light it will really make you smile and want to grab your camera and start shooting!

Pay attention to the light

Today and over the week I want you to notice how the light changes in different rooms in your home throughout the day. As you get to know the light in your home you will really get to know which windows are going to work the best for you. Or you might have a favourite morning window and a favourite afternoon window.

I also want you to notice the light when you are outside. Just begin to be a lot more aware of the light around you as this will help so much when you are looking for good light for your images, whether you are indoors or outdoors.

Of course it isn't just the time of day or time of year that is important to think about but also the weather. On a bright Summer's day you will probably find the light is too harsh near your window and you might want to hang a muslin sheet up to diffuse the light coming in through the window.

Controlling your shadows

Once you've found somewhere that you can take a photograph by a window, I'd like you to practise taking some images of objects that you have around you. These don't need to appear on your Instagram gallery! They can be just for you to experiment with, and if you want to share some of your progress in Facebook, then you can do. But don't feel pressured to be making something amazing.

For a quick test I want you to try taking an image of just one simple object and lay it flat - a plate or bowl is good for this. Try to position the object so that the light falls on it somewhere between 10 and 2 on a clock. Can you see how the shadows are cast? Keep that in mind! Often when I see people's first experiments, the light can sometimes appear to be coming from the bottom of the image. That gives the viewer a strange feeling like the image is upside down. So if you're trying a "flat lay" from the top down, make sure you turn your setup around so that the light comes from the appropriate side of the image.

Behind the scenes

When you're on Instagram and Pinterest, all these images can look impossibly beautiful, can't they! I bet you look at them and think "I could never manage to make that – I just don't have the space", or "I wish I had a photo studio too"!

The trick is that with a good window with lots of natural light, you can fit a small space into your home or workplace. Here are a couple of "behind the scenes" images that I love because this feels so familiar to me!

Go for a light walk

Taking photographs outside can often be as challenging as taking them indoors. If you take images when the sun is too high in the sky they can be all blown out. The colours that you see will be lost. The shadows will be too strong.

Or you try taking images on one of those sunshine with clouds days and every time you take an image you need a different setting.

But then you can have moments outside that are just wow! When the light just makes you smile and feel alive. Learning to capture those moments with your camera (and especially that trusty smartphone in your pocket) helps to preserve theses special times.

Try to find a moment to go for a "light walk" and take some images in different light. It's really fun and you'll be surprised about what you'll learn by trying this.

What is the different between a bright morning, a shady afternoon, dusk? Try to take some images while you walk, again not for sharing, but for learning.

Once you've spotted what works, you can start taking images in the best light you can find. Enjoy the difference it makes!

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