Learn your own light

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I have been shooting 100% in manual on my DSLR for 2 years. During that time I became intimately comfortable with the lighting in each of the rooms of our home. I knew where to shoot and when depending on the time of day, I knew which settings to turn to, I knew exactly where to stand to get the most flattering angle of light on my kids.

And then we moved.

I had no idea how much I had become reliant on that set of knowledge. In our new home I feel lost and confused and my pictures (what few I’ve taken) aren’t meeting my standards. So when September’s 10 on 10 challenge rolled around, I used that day to experiment with the lighting in our new house.

It was like a first date between my camera and these new rooms.

The house is still unpacked and very cluttered. It takes a lot of creative editing and cropping to get anything even remotely clean looking in an image. You can see more tips on that in my post about taking pictures when life is messy.

But this challenge was all about getting acquainted with my new windows. The Peanut was at school that day so I had only Little Pea for company until Tim surprised us by coming home at noon to pack and leave for an overnight trip for work.

I set the alarm on my phone and at the top of each hour between 8 am and 5 pm I wandered around the home taking note of the light coming in through each of my windows. I tried to take a photo in the space that had my favorite warm glowy light whether or not there was a subject I wanted to capture there or not.

I also spent the day shooting with my widest lens possible so I could get a feel for all corners of the rooms which unfortunately captured even more mess.

And got a little desperate for subject matter by the end of the day.

But after this experiment, I feel so much better about our rooms. I have a better sense of how the sun moves around the house and where and when we’ll get our most flattering light. I also learned that late in the day is the perfect time to find some open shade on our front porch with this pretty brick background. Oh do I have plans for that little bit of knowledge. . .

Here are my tips for running your own lighting experiment.

1. Take 1 day and set your alarm: Start early in the morning and take a photo at the top of each hour until the sun sets.

2. Look for the light: When the alarm goes off, take a look at your windows. Take note of:

– Which windows have direct light streaming in? Can you move your subject farther into the room so the light doesn’t hit them directly?
– Where is the indirect light? This is usually the spot you really want to be shooting in. It could be near a door or window.
– Which room is completely in the dark?

These may seem like obvious questions but the answers may surprise you. It’s not always what you think it will be.

3. Take a few test shots: They don’t have to be pretty or album keepers. You can use a stuffed animal or toy as your test subject.

4. Change where you stand: Take 1 shot over here, 1 shot over there, all in the same room. Watch how the light changes depending on where you plant you feet. Which look do you prefer?

5. Watch your settings: For the easiest light to work with, you want to find a space that allows you to keep your ISO at 400 or lower and your shutter speed at 150 or faster. If you can’t accomplish that you either need to switch to a prime lens (something like the 50mm f/1.8 will blow your mind) or find a different room in your house.

That’s not to say you can’t make other lighting situations work with other settings, but that is my “golden zone” where shooting is at it’s easiest for me. It’s where I feel most comfortable and have the greatest chance of capturing something sharp and in focus.

Take that knowledge and run with it!:

Knowing those prime spots in your home will let you take advantage of the “low hanging fruit”–when your kids just happen to be in those areas at the right lighting time, be more aware of what they’re doing. That’s your perfect opportunity for gorgeous, well-lit, natural shots of your family.

My girls are silly goofballs all day long but my favorite photographs of them playing happened because I was keeping an extra alert eye on them during my house’s golden hours.

You can still have candid shots that look as pretty as professionally staged ones if you know your own light.

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  1. Sandy Buckler says

    Thanks Tiffany for posting this.
    I will try it one day so I know when and where it is the best lighting to photograph my cookies.

    Thanks so much!!!


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