natural light question

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Joined: 06/22/10
Posts: 5602
natural light question

does anyone have any tips for shooting outdoors with natural light? My pictures always look flat, or fake looking. i see so many people who's photos look like the subject is right in front of you with perfect lighting and i can never do it. I am decent when lighting with a flash, but can't seem to figure out natural lighting.

Amy_&_Eva's picture
Joined: 08/23/07
Posts: 2378

Can you post an example of your shots? Or describe what settings you are trying? and what outdoor conditions?

Ladybugsteph's picture
Joined: 06/21/06
Posts: 2977

Yes, definitely post some examples, and we can try to help you out with your specific photos.

My suggestion is to start out in your garage. It will give you lots of controlled light for you to practice. Here's an exercise that I did with my son to help me see how the light works. http://shutterbugstroll.blogspot.com/2012/01/garage-light-test.html

I'm still struggling with creating directional light when outdoors. But I'm trying to use the elements around me to create those shadows. You can also use a reflector/deflector to create some depth. I never do, because I don't ever have anyone to hold it for me. Wink

Joined: 06/22/10
Posts: 5602

Here are some examples

1/30, F9.5, ISO 200. I tried a smaller aperture and it looked too washed out and light to me. It was a bright and sunny day, and this was taken in the shade.

and an older one

1/60, F4.5, ISO 200 an overcast day.

Ladybugsteph's picture
Joined: 06/21/06
Posts: 2977

Are you shooting in manual?

With #1, the reason that it looked washed out when you opened your AP is probably because you didn't adjust your shutter speed. When you are getting a properly exposed picture with a closed AP, when you open your AP, you'll have to raise your shutter speed. All of your settings work together. It's hard to tell what the lighting is like at this size, but since he's close to the house, I would imagine that you'll see some shadow on the side of his face that's close to the house, creating some directional light.

In #2, there's just not a lot of light in his eyes. A reflector could have helped, or pulling him closer to the edge of the trees and shooting from slightly above him, getting some of the light from the sky in his eyes, even though it was overcast. It's something that I have been struggling with as well, but playing with the elements around you is what is going to get rid of that flat light.

Now, with both of these, the shutter speed is way too low. Your images aren't very sharp at all because of it. I have learned that, for me, I have to keep my SS VERY high in order to get a crisp image. So, I rarely let my SS go under the 300's these days, or else they're just not very crisp. In order to do that, I have to make sure that my other settings are making up for that "missing" light from my shutter speed. I have to use a higher ISO and more open AP.

Amy_&_Eva's picture
Joined: 08/23/07
Posts: 2378

I will echo Stephanie's CC.

In bright sun you would want as low an ISO as possible, and a fast SS. On an overcast day, you'd need a slightly higher ISO, and to get as much light in his eyes as you can "find".

And with any conditions, you need a fast enough SS to avoid motion blur (such as his blurry right elbow/arm in #1). With wiggly/moving kids, the general rule is to keep it at or above 1/125.

Joined: 10/26/01
Posts: 3409

You've gotten some good feedback and I think these ladies are right on target with how to bump up the wow factor of your photos.

In addition to that, you might try getting out in the "golden hour." This is usually the first hour after sunrise (& therefore not very practical for most folks) or the last hour before sunset. During the "golden hour" the sun is not very harsh and generally won't cause a lot of squinting. It is also much lower on the horizon so you don't get a lot of hard to deal with shadows. And in addition, if your location is right, you have beautiful directional light that can add a lot of "pop" to your photos.

If you get the chance, give it a try and I'll bet you will be pleasantly surprised. There is a reason photographers love that time of day - it makes the job much easier. Smile

Best,
GiGi

Joined: 06/22/10
Posts: 5602

thanks for your input ladies! Biggrin

my cousin asked me to shoot her prom photos friday evening so i am kinda nervous and want them to be the best i can for her. The first photo was done in manual, and the second in p setting. I was finding it difficult to have a high shutter speed and properly exposed photos. I bumped up my ISO, but they were still coming out dark.

Amy_&_Eva's picture
Joined: 08/23/07
Posts: 2378

What camera are you using--are you watching your light meter? (the bar visible in your viewfinder, with the hashmarks and -2-- -1-- 0-- 1-- 2?

When you increase your SS you'll have to compensate by opening your aperture more (making the number lower--example: an aperture of 3.2 is more open than an aperture of 9). That is the most confusing part for most people--aperture.

Ladybugsteph's picture
Joined: 06/21/06
Posts: 2977

I agree with how the aperture can be confusing. You're told that this is the setting that creates more or less blur in the background, but are rarely told that it lets in more light the more you open it up.

For the longest time, I didn't watch my light meter, and I was consistently underexposing my pictures severely. Try to keep that hashmark as close to 0 as you can as a general rule. So, say your light meter is saying that you're underexposing the photo. Look at your settings and decide what needs to be adjusted first to get the meter to 0. If your shutter speed is getting low, then you need to look at your aperture. If your aperture is as open as your lens will allow, then you need to raise your ISO. I hope that makes sense.

sadieruth's picture
Joined: 06/09/05
Posts: 6178

You've gotten some great replies. I don't have much to add other than PRACTICE. It takes a lot of playing around for it to really "click".

Joined: 06/22/10
Posts: 5602

My camera is pretty old, a Nikon D70. it's still in good condition though

i was fiddling around outside and took some more. do these look any better? I realize they arn't the greatest shots and that there is some light missing from his eyes. Just looking at the exposure Smile

The lighting in this one is kinda weird. It's a sunny day, but there is a wall to the right and the sun is behind that. His face looks a little dark to me?

F4.5, 1/350, ISO was around 1000


F4.5, 1/750, ISO around 1000

F4.5, 1/1000 ISO around 1000

sadieruth's picture
Joined: 06/09/05
Posts: 6178

I feel like the focus is off on all these. What kind of method are you using to focus? Are you manually focusing, auto focusing, or toggling focus points?

Muddee's picture
Joined: 03/13/08
Posts: 2119

I can't fully judge the colour/brightness since I am not calibrated. But I know when you have different light levels on the face it can be difficult to get it perfect, I think you could have probably gone a tiny bit brighter.

I do agree the focus does seem a bit off on these.

Ladybugsteph's picture
Joined: 06/21/06
Posts: 2977

Good for you and getting out there and practicing! I think you did a great job at getting your shutter speed up. Unfortunately, it looks like focus missed the face in all of these.

#1 - Focus looks like it grabbed on to the color of his shirt. This one is underexposed. You didn't have much room to lower your shutter speed, and I'm thinking that 4.5 was the most open you could go, so I would have raised your ISO.

#2 - I'm thinking that focus grabbed the shirt again, but this one looks better since you're a little further away. Just not totally crisp. Exposure is better here. Looks like you were in a spot where more light was able to get on his face. That probably helped a lot with your exposure.

#3 - Focus grabbed the railing, I believe. This is a tough lighting situation here. You have some spots where the sun is hitting, and then other spots are shaded. What you'll get is some blown spots when you are metering for your subject who is shaded. Sometimes blown spots are acceptable, like when you're backlighting, and you get some blown hair that isn't distracting. Unfortunately, a blown spot like this, draws the eye away from the subject. So I'd look around for a more evenly lit spot Smile

Joined: 06/22/10
Posts: 5602

thanks ladies, i appreciate all your feedback Biggrin I'm using auto focus.

Ladybugsteph's picture
Joined: 06/21/06
Posts: 2977

Read up on all the different focus methods. For me, I found that using only the middle focal point, locking focus, and recomposing has worked well so far. It's still auto focus, but allows for a little more accuracy. I'm sure that toggling would work better, but my kiddos are too darn fast! Wink