I'm not trying to pretend that I know everything about photography, but sometimes it's better to learn your tips from amateurs!
Light. Oh, light.
Available light is possibly the best thing about photography (and the worst, sometimes). It can really make or break your photo.
So here are some tips I have about light that you may not realise are going on in photos, but when you do, you go ‘ohhhh, so that’s why that photo is amazing!’.
You may know some of these, you may not but hopefully someone will get some good tips out of this post!
(Most of these tips will be for if you're taking portrait type photos, or sometimes nature works too, but I don't really know much about landscape photography!)
Types of lighting
So I won't go into artificial lighting here because it's not really one of my strong points, but in the daytime there are a lot of different things that the sun will be doing, that will dramatically influence your photography.
A cloudy day.
You don't really have to worry about light on a cloudy day, most of the time everything just works out well. The above photo of Hanli was taken on a cloudy day. Have a look at it, and you can see that there are really soft shadows on her face it all seems quite even.
A cloudy day can give you some really nice, simple, unnoticeable shadowing, so the focus is more on the model, your location and your composition.
Problems you can encounter with cloudy days:
Depending on how dark and cloudy it is, your model can sometimes just have big, dark holes for eyes. I'm not positive on a fail-safe way to resolve this, but I'd try moving your model around to face different directions, because it may be really subtle, but one direction may have more light. Also, a reflector (which I'll talk about more later on) while it may seem like it's pointless when there's no sunlight, can sometimes just light someones face up that tiny bit extra that you need.
Sunny days are where it gets complicated, so let's start with the #1 rule! I almost never photograph with the sun behind me (so it's shining on the subject's face). There are several reasons for this:
1. Unless the sun is facing directly onto your model's face, lighting the entire face up, you'll get these ghastly shadows on their face. The nose shadow is the worst. I've noticed that for some reason SLRs really darken shadows, and if the light is hitting the models face at a slight angle, then you'll get a huge black shadow on someone's face from their nose. Not nice.
2. Like SLRs seem to darken shadows a lot, they also can't seem to cope with light that's too bright. So take someones photo with the sun shining directly on them and they'll probably have blown-out shining white skin and giant black patches on their skin from shadows. (Small point and shoot cameras don't seem to have this problem I've noticed - I'm not sure why though!)
In saying that, I've seen some photos where they've used the sun on the face in an artistic way and it seems to work quite well if done correctly - but I just don't bother.
I find that the only time that the sun hits someone's face straight on is at dusk when it's sitting really low in the sky. I've seen photos take with the sun on the face then that have worked quite well.
So, therefor, if you're not going to be putting the sun behind you and your camera, you'll want it behind your model (not side on, that's even worse!). I found it took a little while to get the hang of taking photos with the sun behind people where they weren't just silhouettes, and to be honest, I can't say that I really know how I do it now - it just seems to work! The subject is sometimes slightly dark, so you can bring it up in photoshop a bit, or not, depending.
Some tips I do have, is to make sure the sun isn't shining directly into the camera, and just generally watch where the sun is. You're most likely to get a silhoutte if the sun is only being blocked out of the camera's view by the subject, which can be a bit of a problem.
Another suggestion I would have, is that 12noon is the worst time to take photos on a sunny day, because you can't hide from the sun - it will be directly overhead and you can't avoid those face shadows! But if you wait just an hour you should be able to get it just behind the subject.
In the above photo, for example, the sun is just out of frame (using a lens hood or in my case, your hand, can help block out any sun shining into the lense).
If it helps anyone, for that photo I had the settings on : Aperture priority, f5.6, ss 1/2000 sec, ISO 640, exposure bias 0 step, focal length 85mm. (I'm not going to say that any of that is a solid formula I use or anything, but it's still helpful to see!)
So those tips are all well and good for when you're taking photos that don't focus too much on light. Now let's get into the funner stuff: using light to really 'make' your photo.
One of the best photographers I've encountered in a while at using sunlight would be Rockie Nolan, you can see her blog here.
I'm know where near as good at it as her, but I'm learning! Haha!
Another photographer who is woonnddeerrffuulll at it is Tokarchuk (I don't know her name, she's from Ukraine I think) and you can find her DeviantArt here.
Photo: Rockie Nolan Photo: Tokarchuk
You can pretty much only do these kind of effects with setting/rising sun (hence why I take most of my photos at dusk now.) It does mean that you've got a limited amount of time to perfect it, but going back a few times a day is totally worth it! I'm so in love with the use of the setting/rise sun (I haven't actually gotten up early enough to do the sunrise thing... but I should...)
I think this sort of light useage gives your photos a really dreamy look, loooove it! My only problem is that I'm usually so focused on trying to get it to work that I don't tell the model to do anything exciting and so it's just someone sitting there smiling!
I could pretend to tell you exactly what I did to get this effect, but the truth is I don't quite know. The one thing I do know, is that the camera isn't going to cope very well if you've got the sun shining directly into the lense. You can usually still get the effect if you move to a slightly different angle so it's shining just past your camera, or if the sun is dappled by trees.
It's a bit touch and go depending on your equipment and location, so I encourage you just to get out there and have a go!
Here's a little sneaky trick I do use if I want some lense flare in my photo. If the sun is shining directly into the camera it won't focus properly because it will be freaking out about all the light. So I position the photo slightly off frame and hold my hand up in front of the light (so my hand is in frame) - while my hand is blocking out the light, I focus on my subject (half click), and then I take my hand away, and making sure I keep the shutter half pressed, I then reframe and take the photo with the sun shining in.
Look at photosMy last tip would be to actually look at photos. And I mean really look at them. Your photos, other peoples photos, anything. Have a look at them and figure out where the light is coming from - because it's something you often don't do when scrolling through photos. You may notice that most of the photos you like have light coming from a similar place.
If you have any photography questions you'd like answered then feel free to ask me (perhaps i reply to this post) and I'll do my best to answer them!