Can we just pretend like the last three weeks never happened? You know, the ones where I failed to post a single M(WAC) Monday?
Awesome. I suspected you all were grace-filled and forgiving like that but I needed to run you through that little test just to be sure.
Now that we have that out of the way we can focus on picking up our series again with this week’s topic: Catching the Light.
If you follow any other photographer’s blogs or have delved into photography information before then you may have heard photographers speak of “finding the light”. Sometimes you’ll even hear us say such confounding things as “it’s all about the light!” or “look for the good light!”. And I imagine that as a non-photographer that can be quite maddening. I mean, there’s light all around us, right? How does one differentiate between good light and bad light? And is there really such a thing?
What I’ve come to know in my photography journey is that light is indeed at the heart of every great image. There are many ways to light your subject (front, back and side being the most common) regardless of what your subject is (person, place, or thing). The trick is knowing what light is good light.
Here’s the first thing I’ll tell you: the flash on your camera is NOT good light. Turn it off. Avoid using the flash if at all possible. Leave the flash to the studio professionals (who are working knowledgably with external flashes and strobes) or save it for those moments that you just have to capture but know you can’t with the aid of a little additional light. Next week I’ll do an entire post on turning off the flash and using ambient light. For today I’d like to focus on how to see what good light looks like.
There’s one super easy tell-tale way to know if the light you’re shooting in is good or not. And it’s all in the eyes. If someone is in the room with you right now, look over at them. Wait! Stop! Don’t stare…now you’re just the creepy lady in the adjacent cube! Be cool about it. Check out what their eyes look like right now. If you’re not in the room with someone, do this exercise the next time one of your hooligans comes running in. If your house is anything like mine you won’t have to wait longer than 3.2 seconds.
Look in your subject’s eyes. What do you see? Dark pits? Shadows? Unnatural color? If so, you’re looking at bad light. This can happen when the sun is directly overhead (shadows). When your subject is facing away from the main light source (dark pits). Or if your subject is sitting next to some really strongly colored light like a warm desk lamp or a strong flourescent light (unnatural color). Now if you have a willing subject at hand, ask them to stay in that same location and follow your eyes (or camera) as you move. Now walk a circle around them, paying very, very close attention to what happens to your subject’s eyes. Are they moving in and out of shadows? Getting darker or lighter? Or are they…lighting up?! STOP! When you see a glisteny reflection in your subject’s eyes, you’ve found it. You’ve found the good light. You’re looking at your very first catchlight (because you’ve literally caught the light in your subject’s eyes). Congratulations! The bigger the catchlight, the better the light. Now grab your camera and shoot before you forget what it looks like!
Before you head out to start staring intently into the eyes of all the friends, neighbors, kids and strangers that you meet today (creep lady!), I’d like to show you a few examples of catchlights that I found in my snapshot folders from the last few months. I’ll give you a few details about how the catchlights in each image came to be.
This first image is a gimme shot. I’ll confess to having a HUGE picture window in my family room that never lets me down (and I’ll also confess to putting an offer on our house on the spot once I saw that window). The light that comes flooding through that window always reflects beautifully in my subject’s eyes. I used that window to light this little guy from the side (his left side) which is why you see the catchlights that dot the side of both of his eyes. Notice how the catchlights in his left eye are stronger than in his right. That’s because that eye is closer to the main light source. Same window, same idea, different subject…
In this next shot my little dude is sitting on our front porch (inexplicably wearing his bike helmet). The porch is providing open shade (no direct light) and he’s lit from his right side as well as from the front where the porch opens up.
Another example of indoor sidelighting resulting in some pretty sweet catchlights. By now I don’t have to tell you guys where the light is coming from, right? You’re quick studies…
And here’s an example that’s a bit more subtle (and harder to get). I shot this image at around noon outdoors which I tell most novices not to do. My boy was sitting under an umbrella and the light is coming in strongly from all around him. The reason I want to show this example is because the catchlights are coming from an unexpected source. The light you see in his eyes (and it’s much more subtle) is actually the reflection of the strong sunlight off of the rocks and house. I know this because they’re concentrated in the lower part of his eye. This is not a typical catchlight but it’s a great example of how sometimes the objects around you can do an incredible job of reflecting light back on your subject.
And because I just can’t wrap this post up without making sure you have an a-ha moment, I’m about to let you in on a little secret. Wanna know the best and fastest way to get a catchlight out of your subject’s eye 9 times out of 10? Ask them to look up. Most of our light sources are coming from above and when you ask your subject to look up at you you’re able to keep the browbone and hair from blocking and shadowing that light.
It’s the reason you’ll often see many looking up shots in the portfolios of beginning (and experienced) photographers. It’s particularly useful on overcast days when the clouds hang so low and you just can’t find a clean spot of light.
And now that you know all of my secrets I must fade into oblivion…
Or maybe I’ll wait until next week.