Photography Stuff: Two Things to Consider for Improving Your Photos

Time for another Photography Stuff post!  Learning how to use your camera and manual settings is super important- but there are a couple of non-camera things you can do to improve your photos as well.

The most important component of photography is light. Photographs are simply the product of your camera’s attempt at capturing light bouncing off subjects in the frame, so proper lighting is of great importance. There are lots of different ways to light your shot. You can use natural light from the sun and existing light sources like lamps, or you can use additional light from flashes aka strobes, or whatever else you can position that gives off light. A lot of photographers will use a mixture of light sources. I like using natural sunlight best and I set my photos up specifically to use as much of the natural light as I can to my advantage. When thinking about sunlight (indoors or out) you also need to think about the surfaces it hits or is bouncing off of. Often times for my photos, my sunlight is being bounced naturally off of a wall or even my own skin. Don’t believe me? Give it a try- place your subject in front of a sunlit window and hold different items up in front of the subject. White or lighter things reflect the sunlight best but skin or even a wall can bounce light and easily improve your shot. Having great light for a shot doesn’t always mean placing your subject directly in the line of light, move around and see what works best. To avoid harsh unwanted shadows try placing your subject on the edge of a shaded area.  This look usually creates a nice soft looking photo because there is little or no direct light and only light bouncing off other objects. Lastly if you want your photos to really shine- try and achieve a catch light, the reflection of light in the subject’s eye–this usually requires a source of light near the camera and low enough to directly hit the eye.

[Note from James:  The size of your light source relative to your subject is very important.  Large sources of light make for soft shadows, small sources of light make for harsh shadows.  The sun, though enormous, is relatively small from our perspective and as a result creates very harsh shadows.  However, sun light can be modified to create big soft sources… like a window without direct sunlight or a light colored wall, as Danielle mentioned.  All objects reflect light and when they do they become a source of light for you to see and your camera to capture.  A light colored wall reflects a lot of light, especially when hit directly by the sun and it’s a much bigger source than the sun relationally to your subject, if you are close to it, so you will get softer shadows and more flattering light in most situations.  Of course this is only part of it, but once you can understand and predict the effect of your light source on your subject you’ll take better pictures more often.]

Another import and easy way to quickly improve your photos is how you position yourself for a photo. The tilted angles of a camera, the height at which you are taking the photo, and the length of the shot all effect the overall look and feel of your photos. A small adjustment on any of these can greatly change the shot. For example if you want to give your subjects height try stepping back and taking the photo at waist height and slightly point upward at your subject. Or for another kind of look take a photo from higher up-angeled down towards your subject. Keep in mind that some positions or camera angles can actually distort the image too- you’ll want to be mindful of this or you could end up having a picture that has great height but a HUGE foot or hand because the camera was angled too much and the image was distorted. Also when you’re thinking about your shot consider your distance from the subject and what kind of look you’re trying to achieve. Often times I’ll increase the distance from my subject if I want to take a wide shot that shows more of the scene around me. This kind of shot is great for telling a story or establishing your point of view to the audience. I also like to take shots where I have a small distance between me and my subject to capture more closeness or intimacy in the photo.

Lighting and positioning can easily enhance your photos- even if you’re not a photographer. Go ahead give it a try!

Below are some photos I took with notes on my lighting & positioning for the shots. (I’ve also included my camera settings for all you manual shooters). Though he has plenty of toys and children’s books, Eli loves to play in our closets and drawers. It was too cute not to photograph so of course I snapped some photos- Enjoy!

I shot the photo below at f/4.0, an ISO of 1000, shutter speed 1/100 sec., with my lens at 24mm. To my left sun is coming directly into the bathroom and I have the door open to let the light come through. I also have light coming in from the bedroom doorway behind Eli and from the living room to the right of Eli which is causing a soft highlight on the right of his face. I put Eli on the edge of the shade to keep the soft light look and I positioned myself and my camera at his level with the camera almost on the floor. Notice he still has catch light in his eyes- this is coming from the bathroom as he is slightly slanted towards where the direct light is coming from. [Note from James: If you were to zoom in you’d actually see the a reflection of the bathroom in his eyes, that’s because the the source of light is the objects in the bathroom that are lit up by the sun… very similar to how the moon becomes a source of light at night because it reflects the sun.]

This next shot was taken with the same camera settings as above and the only difference in positioning was that I got closer to Eli and moved the camera higher up for a head-on shot. See how positioning can give you a totally different look?

Again for this next shot I used the same settings as above except my lens was zoomed out to 32mm. You can really see the shade line in this one and how I placed Eli on the edge of it. I love his little grin- even if it is drooly!

Eli was having fun and moved himself directly into the light coming from the bathroom so for the next two shots I set my shutter speed to 1/200 sec so the image wouldn’t be over exposed. Also I zoomed in my lens to 24mm again. Positioning wise for both of these I took them on my knees- just a little above. The photo on the left makes Eli look longer because the camera is tilted down a bit, also Eli’s head is closer to the lens which makes his head and arm a little larger than the rest of him.

This shot was taken at f/4.0, an ISO of 800, shutter speed 1/80 sec., with my lens at 24mm. You can see he is moved back into the shade and what I love about this picture (besides my baby) is the gorgeous catch light in his eyes. :-)

This next shot was taken in my room at f/4.0, ISO 2000, shutter speed 1/80 and my lens is set to 24mm. The light is coming in straight from the window to the front right corner of this picture. To get this shot I positioned myself right on Eli’s level [Note from James: looks lower to me.. ;-)] again and put my camera almost directly on the seat of the chair. Eli loves playing with his daddy’s belts- too funny! [argg]

These next few shots were taken at f/4.0, ISO 2000, shutter 1/80 sec., and my lens varied as I zoomed in and out a bit.  The only light I had was the sunlight coming in from the window behind and above me. I like how it kind of created a spot light in the closet. Positioning wise I sat directly on the floor for these about 4 feet away and I didn’t want to zoom in too much because I wanted the closet to be a part of my story- so I kept the shot wide. Eli loves pulling all the clothes, shoes, and accessories down in my closet- as you can see he did a good number on my shoes :-)

I love this next shot! My camera settings are the same as above but my positioning is completely different. I wanted to see the closet from Eli’s perspective so I got down on my stomach on the floor directly behind Eli and angled the camera up- the camera was right in amongst all the shoes Eli pulled out.

The next two shots were too cute not to share. The one on the left shows him really going after my shoes. I used the same camera settings as I had done in the previous shots but for this one I positioned myself to the right and got up on my knees to get a higher position. The image on the right had Eli facing the window behind me which was our only light for the shot. I love the shadows going on in this shot. My camera was set to f/4.0, ISO 2000, shutter speed 1/80 sec., and my lens was at 24mm. I positioned myself slightly to the right of Eli to keep him in the light and avoid casting a shadow. I positioned my camera at crib level and I angled my camera downward slightly. You can see a tiny bit of catch light in his eyes. I love his smile for me in this picture and how his new little top tooth is peeking out. What a joy he is!

So hopefully this post made some sense and perhaps gave you a some things to think about when you’re taking photos. And if it didn’t, at least you got to see some fun pictures of Eli exploring! For all you photo takers- do you have a favorite camera angle? What is it? Send me a link to your photos I’d love to see!

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