Going back to the early days, just after mastering the manual mode, I remember being totally intimidated by open light. I spent the better part of my first year or so “in the shade” and too scared to try shooting anywhere else. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? One of the most important elements in photography is light, yet I was afraid of it.
An early “in the shade” image.
The more I learned and looked around at other photographer’s work, I realized that my photos felt a bit flat, or like they were lacking something.
It was light.
Once I realized that, I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone, the shade, and have my children step into the light.
WOW, what a difference it made. I finally felt like my photos had the dimension they were previously lacking and so much more visual interest.
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1. Look for the light
Way back, I was taught that you should shoot at sunrise or sunset to get the best light. Now don’t get me wrong, that golden light sure is GORGEOUS, but with a busy schedule and limited time behind the camera, sunrise and sunset are not always optimal. There is great light at any time of day; you just need to learn to look for it. Some of my favorite places to go include downtown areas where tall buildings will subtly diffuse the light, tree lined walking paths, and open fields. Experiment if you have to. You might surprise yourself and you will definitely learn from your mistakes.
2. Understand how to position your subject
One last thing that is important to understand is how to position your subject to get the best results and avoid harsh shadows and glaring light.
I will admit, when I first got out there, I felt a little unsure how to best position my subjects so the lighting worked with me, instead of against me. Honestly this is why I clung to the shade for so long.
Have you ever used or heard of the circle test?
I did this quite often on location, especially in an open field where the sun might be pretty high in the sky. I would have my daughter stand up and I would tell her to slowly turn in a circle.
As she did this, I was paying close attention to the way the light fell on her face. As soon as she stopped squinting, the shadows across her face disappeared, and I could see a hint of reflection in her eyes, I knew that was the direction I wanted to her to face. Also note when you find the right position based on the circle test, if you look at the ground you will see that the shadows are typically in front or to the side of your subject.
So if you are early on in your photography journey and feel intimidated by open light, I highly encourage you to step out of the shade and give it a try! I guarantee you will be hooked and become a lover of light, just like me. Shooting in the shade will be a distant memory.