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Photography Lesson #1-Using Outside Light

In case you missed the discussion about this, I should let you know that this post begins an irregular series about getting the most out of the camera that you already own (which is the cheapest one you can use!).

I’m not the world’s most highly accomplished photographer, so there are a lot of people out there who are likely more qualified to teach on this subject than I am.

But I’ve learned a lot of things over the past 3-4 years that have been really helpful to me, and I’m sharing them in the hope that my suggestions will help you to make the most of your camera (and I promise none of my suggestions will be the sort that cost a bunch of money. Most, if not all of them will be free).

Using Outside Light

If you have a not-so-great camera, one of the best things you can do is to go outside. Even cameras that are probably better fit to be a paperweight than a camera can usually take somewhat decent pictures outside.

There really is nothing like natural light, and it’s easiest to take advantage of it by going outside (as opposed to using natural light that comes through a window).

However, when you are using natural, outdoor light, you need to be a little bit picky about it. Most people think that shooting at high noon under broad daylight will produce lovely pictures. In actuality, high noon is about the last time you want to take pictures(unless it’s cloudy out).

When the sun is high overhead, it produces some very harsh light that will cast funky shadows under your subject’s eyes and will sometimes make portions of the picture too bright.

Using Shade

Here’s a picture I took of Sonia in the early afternoon. See the icky shadows underneath her eyes?

Sonia squinting in the sunshine

I didn’t ask her to make a bad face. She just did that because the sun was so bright. That’s another good reason to avoid shooting under full sun…it makes your subjects squint.

Here’s another picture of her taken just a few minutes later but in the shade. See how there are no harsh shadows on her face now? and you can actually see her tank top, whereas in the above picture, it’s so bright you can hardly see the neckline of it.

Plus, since the sun wasn’t so bright, she could actually look straight at the camera.

A little girl with blonde pigtails, looking at the camera.

Here’s Zoe in the sunshine:

A brown-haired girl in pigtails, looking away from the camera

And here’s Zoe in the shade. You can see the same thing here…the light is much softer, so the dark shadows are gone.
A little girl pointing at the camera.


If you don’t have any shade available, another option is to try to take pictures earlier in the day or later in the day, when the sun is not directly overhead. Usually the light is better before 11:00 am and after 4:00 pm.

Here’s a picture of Sonia in the exact same spot as the first picture. The only difference is that it was taken in the late afternoon when the sun was a little lower in the sky.

A blonde girl in the shade.

Using Clouds

And, as I mentioned earlier, an overcast day can provide very nice light for pictures…because the sun is behind the clouds, the light tends to be very even and soft, which is perfect for pictures. I took this picture of Zoe on a really cloudy day, actually (with my old point and shoot, no less).

A baby girl in a Santa hat; photo is black and white.

Unless you’re living in the southern hemisphere, you should currently be experiencing weather that’s conducive to outdoor photography (unlike, say, January weather!).

So, head outside, especially in the cooler mornings and evenings (isn’t it wonderful that the temperatures are pleasant while the light is nice??) and see what your camera can do.

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How To Take Good Pictures of Objects: Move Them!

Thursday 14th of January 2010

[...] How To Use Outside Light [...]


Thursday 7th of January 2010

To avoid backlighting, like on that example photo of Zoe, use the flash. It also works really well outside when people are standing in a shade or the sun is a wrong angle (can't always wait for the sun to be right to take the picture!).

Test it first though - if the flash washes everything out, most cameras have an option in the menu for reducing it down. You don't want once-in-a-lifetime pictures to be gone forever because the flash was wrong. My Canon default flash reduced down from the factory specs because the flash is just too strong.

How To Take Good Pictures: Use Outdoor Light | SELF RELIANCE EXCHANGE

Thursday 10th of December 2009

[...] post originally appeared on The Frugal Girl. [...]

The Frugal Girl » Photography Lesson #2-Getting Down

Tuesday 21st of July 2009

[...] For those of you that are new: I’m doing an intermittent series of posts about improving your photography without purchasing any new equipment (that’s how it ties in with the frugal theme here at this blog!).  You might also want to read the introduction to this series and the first post in the series. [...]


Tuesday 16th of June 2009

Yes, and of course remember the old "keep the sun over your right shoulder" rule in regards to lighting. Personally I hate taking photos of people on most strong sunlight days and instead opt for dreary overcast days.

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