How To See The Light

Do you know what good light looks like? Can you find it in your home or do you wonder what it is people are talking about?

Today we are talking light. Once you see the light, your photography will improve tremendously.

Start by grabbing your camera and a tomato if you have one. Yes, I’m obsessed with tomatoes.

Begin by looking for a light source:

  • the sun through a window
  • the sun through an open door
  • the sun

To see the light, use your camera in Aperture Priority mode (AV or A). I selected an aperture of f/4.0 for all of my photos. I didn’t do anything tricky, no adjusting exposure compensation or any post processing. Stick with one aperture so you can really see the different.

Exercise 1 – Backlit versus front lit

  1. Place your tomato on a window ledge.
  2. Face the window.
  3. Shoot.

Notice how the tomato’s face (work with me here) is in a shadow. The top of its tomato head has nice light, but the rest is lost in the shadow.

  1. Move the tomato to a table or chair opposite of the window sill you just placed it in.
  2. Stand slightly to the side of the tomato so you don’t block the light.
  3. Shoot.


Do you see the light? Notice how we’ve now lit the tomato’s face and head. It is even and we’ve created some nice “catchlights.” Our subject is in good light.

Exercise 2 – Direct Light Vs. Indirect Light

Are you ever tempted to take photographs by the bright sunlight? ┬áDon’t be fooled by its enticing ways.

  1. Find a window (or doorway) that has bright, white light. (It’s the warmest light that your cat might want to sit in on a cool day.)
  2. Place your tomato in the brightest light.
  3. Shoot.

Notice the harsh, almost blown out areas around the center of the tomato? That is details lost in your photo and would cause your subject’s eyes to close (if it has eyes). Also notice the harsh shadows cast. That is the equivalent to big shadows under your subject’s eyes. Not flattering.

  1. In the same window, place your tomato in the shadow.
  2. Shoot.

Doesn’t the tomato look more relaxed now? A bit happier. Definitely no shadows under its eyes. Notice how the light is more even and the shadow less harsh?

Exercise 3 – Angle of Light

  1. Place your tomato in even, indirect light. (Mine is a bit back lit here, but yours doesn’t need to be.)
  2. Place it facing the light.
  3. Stand with your shoulder toward the light source.
  4. Shoot.

Do you see the light? Notice the heavy shadow on one side? This side light can be used artistically. But let’s just imagine you don’t like it much.

  1. Place the tomato’s shoulder toward the window.
  2. Place your shoulder toward the window.
  3. Shoot.

Look at that! The shadows are opened up. Your tomato is in beautiful, even light. Nice. The difference is small, but important to understand. A slight shift in your angle or the tomato’s can create a different image.

Exercise 4 – Direct Sunlight Vs. Open Shade

But what if that tomato wants to go outside and play? What do you do then?

  1. Place your tomato in the direct sun.
  2. Shoot.

Direct sun is bad for your tomato and it is bad for your photography. Notice the hot mess created in this photo? Details are blow out (that’s the super white areas with little detail). ┬áThe tomato is squinting. And do you notice every single blemish on it? Bad news.

  1. Move that tomato into the shade!
  2. Look for even, non-dappled light.
  3. Shoot.

Notice a difference? Now the tomato looks so much better. The harsh shadows are gone and its eyes open up. It looks so much better.

Do you see the light?

Leave a comment below to share your favorite spot to find great light.