I am a HUGE lover of light and I am always observing it around me everywhere I go. I am always noticing the way it hits an object or the way it illuminates my subject. I am the crazy lady that takes my camera with me everywhere and has even had her kids play in the grocery store parking lot because the light was so good. I love to capture it in every form and at any time of day. Every image I take is inspired by light in some way, so I am going to show you my favorite ways to use outdoor light creatively.
Read more: 6 Steps to Creating a Silhouette
Backlight is when the sun or light source is behind your subject. I love using backlight to give a more magical feel to an image. I usually like to have something behind my subject to filter the light, like a building or trees.
Shooting with open sun right behind your subject can create a ton of haze (unless the sun is almost setting or has set), and while that can be pretty for an image or two, it’s usually not the look I’m going for when backlighting. I also like to overexpose a stop or two to ensure the skin is bright enough.
Read more: 8 Tips for Backlighting
Rim light illuminates and creates an outline of light around your subject. This is another form of backlight. You typically need harsher light to get this affect. I find right before or at the very beginning of golden hour works best to achieve this. I tend to underexpose a tad when I notice rim light because that will help it stand out more.
Flares are such a fun and creative way to use light! Every flare is unique and you never know what you will get. When trying to achieve a flare the best way is to get the sun partially blocked by your subject or an object in the background (trees, buildings etc)
While it’s possible to catch flares when the sun is very low, these typically aren’t as dramatic as when the sun is higher. You can achieve flares with direct sunlight (nothing behind your subject to filter), but I find the haze with direct sun to be overpowering and the flare isn’t the star of the image.
This is one of my most favorite ways to be creative with light. Silhouettes are best captured when the sun isn’t too high and with an open sky (no buildings, trees etc). The sun needs to be behind your subject to achieve a good silhouette. I tend to shoot mine at the very end of golden hour when the sun is low and those sunset colors are really showing. It’s even better when there are clouds.
I love adding interest to my silhouettes with props like balloons, umbrellas, sticks etc. I usually choose a wider angle for my silhouette to show off the sky. When exposing for this I always expose for the sky. This will give you a perfectly dark subject and perfectly exposed sky.
Reflections add an element of interest a photo and There are many ways to capture reflections: in a body of water, puddles, windows, bubbles etc. I usually expose for my subject and enhance the reflection with contrast and clarity in post processing to make it pop even more. Reflections can be shot at anytime of day, but I find the golden hour is best for an extraordinary reflection shot.
This is a great way to add playfulness and interest to a photo. For shadows you can have the sun in front of your subject and something behind our around your subject that the shadow will be cast on, like a wall or tree. You can also achieve shadows with backlighting, for example a kid riding a bike in the street at golden hour with the sun behind him will cast the shadow of the subject and bike on the street.
For front lit images I will usually expose for the brightest part of the image which will make that shadow stand out. For backlighting I will expose for skin and underexpose a few stops. Try using objects to make the shadow even more interesting (a toy, umbrella, bicycle).
I don’t use this technique often, but front lighting is having the sun directly on your subject and you will be shooting with the sun behind you. I typically use this method when the sun is low, usually around golden hour. Any time before usually produces harsh shadows when using natural light only. Shooting with direct light produces gorgeous rich colors that pop. It will really show off a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds.
When front lighting, Its very important to expose for your subjects skin. It’s easy to overexpose/blow the skin if you don’t do this. I usually don’t need to do much editing to these images because everything is enhanced with the direct light.