It's all about the Light!
Presented by Glenn Springer, TIF, RHCC

You CAN take a great picture in the middle of a sunny day!
But you have to work at it by being aware of the light.

Kelly is backlit by the sun. Notice the "rim lighting", the way her hair glows in the picture. This was shot with a little point-and-shoot camera, by the way!

Shot in the middle of the day, at the Minden Wildwater Preserve. The super-white reflection of the water in the bright sun is extremely difficult to handle and it took some Photoshop skills to render this picture well.


Do you know what the difference is between an ordinary picture and an outstanding picture? It’s all about the light.

I’m not saying that if you don’t have exceptional light you can’t get a wonderful picture, I’m saying that you have to be aware of the light that’s there and how to adapt to it. You CAN take a good picture in the middle of a bright sunny day, but you have to work around it by shooting a subject that fits that kind of horrible light, or by modifying the light or the composition.

Look around you. Be aware of the light and shadows. Think about how you might use it to make your pictures better!

Here there was a mix of sun and cloud and I waited until the sun hit Ryan to take the picture. I did enhance the picture with some software and if you're wondering why he is in the centre of the picture, it's because I wanted to use the ladder as a compositional element, and you needed to see the end of the tank to get the context of where he was standing.


Let’s start with that situation. Most, no ALL of us have faced it. Not everyone gets up at 4:30 am to shoot in the magical dawn and pre-dawn light. Few people have elaborate photo studios where they can create exactly the kind of light they want. We rely on that big ball of fire up in the sky and because a bright, sunny day is ideal for most activities, that’s when we shoot most of our pictures.

The sun is a pin-point source of light. It’s like shining a powerful flashlight on your subject and usually it makes really hard, black shadows. That’s the problem: the shadows! And not just the big ones, also the little ones, like the shadow of a nose across a face or even a chin on a neck. If you expose your picture for someone’s face, you’re not going to see anything but blackness in the shadows. If you expose for the details in the shaded areas, the other stuff is going to be all blown out white. What can you do?

Use the shadows and the light to bring out your subject. In this image, the sun was shining directly on Rosa
but the background was in the shade, so the contrast really made her stand out.


This was shot at a local outdoor concert, where I used the brightly coloured stage lights to create the montage.That's very challenging lighting (and the mosquitoes didn't help!). The picture was enhanced in Photoshop to bring out the details.

Use the rays of the setting sun to outline the subject.

“Well you could shoot silhouettes, where that’s exactly what you want to see; you could move your subject into the shade where the light is not so extreme, you could wait for a cloud to cross in front of the sun, you could get fancy software that blends multiple pictures into HDR’s… not a lot of choices. Sometimes it doesn’t matter: the subject is more important than the light — the first time your kid dives head first in the water; a killer trick on a skateboard… but usually good light makes for a better shot.

To a journalist, it can't hurt to have great lighting but the story is more important. This image of an arrest after an armed robbery was picked up by several newspapers and TV media (and earned me quite a bit of money!). Right place at the right time.




Before the dawn


Same story. The setting sun added fire to the sky and really brought the subject out. Photographers pay thousands of dollars to simulate light like this in their studios!



The best time to shoot pictures outdoors is when the sun is really low in the sky — at dawn and at dusk. The light is magical. Before sunrise, everything is blue and serene. When the sun comes up, the sky explodes with colour and that colour is reflected in everything you see. The same thing is true at sunset: don’t pack up your camera as soon as the sun goes down, though! Wait for it… the sky is the absolute best after sunset for at least half an hour!






Two images taken of students in a photo workshop last summer. One was shot with the sun behind me and the other with the sun at an angle off to the left in front of me. I don't have to tell you which was which, or ask you which picture you prefer, do I?


Think about where the light is coming from. If the sun is behind you, it’s right in the face of the person you’re trying to shoot. They’ll be squinting, the shadows will be awful; they’re going to hate you! Almost as much as if you used that pop-up flash I talked about earlier. Try moving around so it’s behind them, or off to the side. You’ll have to think about your exposure if it’s in your picture — experiment! If the sun is off to the side, you’ll create wonderful textures on what you’re shooting. Warning, though: women especially don’t like to see every crease, every pore in their skin! Guys do, though…



this is me. I used a strobe behind me in studio, and a reflector in front but way off to the right, to add light in front and bring out all the little details. Women hate this look. Don't try to shoot a woman this way, or she'll kill you.


This is a digital painting I created from an image lit by "North Facing Window Light". The image is enhanced but the lighting isn't changed.

For what it's worth, this was awarded "Portrait of the Year" by the GTCCC in 2009 and was "Best in Show" at the RHCC exhibit in Richmond Hill the same year.

Ryan, North-Facing Window Light. 'nuff said?


Photographic studios try to create the ideal light. You don’t need one. Generally they’re trying to emulate soft, even lighting but I’m going to tell you where to find it! Use the light coming in from a window or doorway (not in the direct sunlight: we call it a “north-facing window”). Even that can be a little hard so if you need to, put something to reflect some of that light back on the side away from the window: even a newspaper lying on a table or a white towel will do sometimes! Try it, you’ll like it.



Valerja was shot using the light coming in from a window to her left. I laid a newspaper down on the table in front of her to reflect some light upwards and fill in the shadows.

Links to FACzen Photography:
We teach you how to become a better photographer. And we sell fine art images. Please check us out at the links below.


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter! One click to unsubscribe, if you find it's not for you.
But you won't! It's chock full of great tips & images and we're always giving away free stuff!