Nicer photos – Tip #2

My 'photo studio'

Let’s talk about light when taking photos. Please bear in mind that I’m no photography expert, this is just my experience. I encourage you to experiment with your own equipment and settings and surroundings and whatnot. ;-)

First, I’ll show you my “photo studio”. Most of my photos are taken in a setting like this: a sheet of white A3 paper with a piece of white cardboard as the background. If I don’t need a background, I just use the cardboard. Usually I sit by the west facing French doors in our living room. The doors are literally a foot away from the set-up in the photo above.

See, those are the doors (below). It’s not a great spot, but it’s the largest source of natural light in our flat. And as long as the sun isn’t shining directly at my “photo studio”, I can get a passable result.

So, don’t think that you need fancy equipment to get a decent result. What you do need is to get to know your camera and how it behaves in different light conditions. And once you know the best place in your home and the best time of day (weather permitting), you will be able to get reliable results.

Window next to my 'photo studio'

Right. So now you know where I take my photos. Let’s look at what the (almost) same picture looks like at different times of day. Remember, my natural source of light is west facing.

These photos were taken at the end of March, before the start of British Summer Time. Oh and, I haven’t altered the photos in this post at all. Straight out of the camera, baby!


10:27am – The photo is not bad. But because it is still morning light it has a blue-ish tinge to it. If I had to use this photo I would most likely alter it a bit, adding a bit of warmth and maybe lighten it a bit too.


1:35pm – The sun still hasn’t come round to this side of the building, but the photo definitely feels warmer. If I had to use this photo, I would lighten it, but otherwise it isn’t too bad.


4:22pm – By this time the sun had come round to this side of the building, but I think there was a bit of cloud when I took this photo, so the light isn’t too harsh. This is an ok photo too. I might lighten it a bit, but that’s about it.

Taking photos in slightly cloudy conditions is great. Completely overcast, raining cats and dogs isn’t good at all of course, and neither is direct sunlight.


6:18pm – Maybe you can tell that the sun is starting to set? There’s a bit of yellow-ish warmth going on in some of the rolls of tape. This photo could be made usable, but it’d need a bit of work, to lighten it and add a bit of coolness. It wouldn’t be my preferred one to use. 

It’s always best to use a photo that needs the least amount of work. The more you need to make it look good afterwards, the more you risk making it look pixelated and unnatural.

6:44pm + sun

6:44pm – Aw snap! Unless you’re going for an atmospheric sunset-y shot, I wouldn’t use a shot like this. The sun hits the tapes and background in weird angles creating really dark shadows in some places and none in others. That could be kinda confusing if this were a shop photo, for example..

Artificial Light

Late evening – And with artificial light to boot. Don’t even bother unless you’re sending a photo of your cat to your mum or something. ;-) Again the shadows are all over the place and the colours are all wrong. Artificial light always has a ‘temperature’, warmish from incandescent bulbs or coolish from fluorescent and eco bulbs.

But unlike cool or warm natural light, almost nomatter what you try to make the photos, the result will always give off a “this photo was taken in artificial light”. Of course, that doesn’t apply to fancy-pants professional lighting, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. ;-)


Flash! – If at all you can avoid it, don’t use flash in your photos. Look how the colours on the tapes are kinda washed out. And the shadows are really sharp and unnatural. This is unflattering to everything and everyone.

Don’t use flash if you’re taking photos of people, because their facial features will look kinda weird because of the lack of natural shadows. Not to mention red eyes and the “oh my god why did you flash your flash at me now I’m blinded for the rest of the day” look on their faces! ;-)

Ok, you can use flash at your boyfriend’s drunken birthday party if there’s no proper lighting available! ;-)

Right, that concludes this very unscientific look at different light conditions… Hope you like it! :-)

And if you have any other advice and/or suggestions – that’s what the comments are for. Ta!

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  1. HelenH
    April 14, 2011 / 1:01 am

    I've learnt a few tips from my brother who is a professional photographer… You can use a flash, but not the little flash that pops up on your camera. You need a speedlight that you attach to the top of your DSLR and you can change the angle of. Generally, pointing it at the ceiling and bouncing the light back gives a lovely soft light and doesn't create unflattering shadows (unless the ceiling is dark or wood, which will not give nice results). Another trick is attaching a little piece of white card to the flash that extends up past it – it bounces more nice light in the right direction. You can also cover the flash with a thin piece of tissue paper to give a more muted flash.

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