Turn to the Light

A few years ago, I came across an article that totally changed my photography. Although I knew the mechanics of my camera and I understood how to expose properly, I was completely baffled by the concept of light. My camera I could control. The light around me? I was clueless.

I didn’t understand why sometimes my photos would be great and other times they would be a horrible, shadowed, blueish mess. It all felt like luck was the biggest factor in how my photos turned out.

And then I came across an article about how to “find light.” The post talked about using a marble in your hand and holding it as you turn your hand around. You can see the light change!

That was it! I had needed something visual to help me understand how light affects our photos. You can see in the images above how the light (and therefore shadows and texture) change as we move toward or away from the light source.

It finally started to click!

Soon after, I was at the park with my kids and I wanted to test things. I didn’t have a marble, but I always bring my fist with me and I gave it a try. I just asked my daughter to stand for a photo like I always would have and snapped. And then I used my fist and I turned in a circle, waiting for the light to be most flattering. I then told her to stand there. We didn’t move locations, just directions. Here are the two unedited photos.

See the difference? More light, less shadows. Light and bright eyes instead of black holes. It was at this point that my understanding of photography took a major shift.

Although I still have a lot to learn about light and how to use it to my advantage, I know now that all I need is my fist and about five seconds to measure the light and to know where best to shoot from. When I am doing portraits, I know where to place my subjects. When I am shooting in a photojournalistic style, I know how to move myself to capture the light in the best way.

On Christmas morning two years ago, we stepped outside to take a few pictures of our kids in the jammie pants I had made them. I took a photo of my daughter and saw how dingy it was. It was early morning and the sun was coming up from the other direction. I simply asked her to turn around and took another picture. What a difference!

Give it a try!

The next time you are photographing something, hold your hand or fist up and look at the light. Slowly turn in a circle and watch how the light changes. It is amazing to realize that sometimes the difference between a bad photo and a great one is just a pivot!