Photography Mini Series Part 5: What is the Best Lighting for taking Pictures?

Welcome to part five of our photography mini series. Learning the photography puzzle can have it’s challenges, but the rewards are great! If you are joining us for the first time today, I encourage you to check out the first four posts of this series:

Six Reasons to Learn to Shoot in Manual Mode
Aperture: How to get that Blurry Background in Pictures
ISO: How to set your ISO to take Bright and Balanced Pictures
Shutter Speed and Metering: How to use Shutter Speed to take Bright Pictures
The Benefits of Shooting in RAW
Where to Focus when Taking Pictures
How to take your own Family Pictures for your Christmas Card

Like I have said before, I am offering this short series in hopes of teaching others like myself who want to get great pictures of everyday life.

What do I mean by people like myself? I want good pictures of my kids, good pictures for my blog, and candid pictures of life. I do not want to start a photography business nor hire myself out for family pictures.

This mini series is meant for amateurs like myself who just want to capture life’s moments.

If you are among the thousands who own a DSLR, but you don’t know how to shoot in manual mode, I highly encourage you to try to learn. This series is a great place to start.

The camera I use is a Canon EOS Rebel T3. While this is a great starter camera, I would not recommend this camera if your goal is to learn to fluently shoot in manual mode. I use a fixed (or prime) 50 mm lens for almost all my pictures. I highly highly recommend this lens. CONSIDERING THE PRICE, it is an excellent lens, in my amateur opinion.

When I first started taking pictures three years ago, this was a question I tried to answer for myself many times. What is the best lighting for taking pictures? Through lots of trial and error and plenty of bad pictures, I learned what works best for me.

Here is lighting for photography in a nutshell:
1. You must shoot during daylight hours. Being a mom and a blogger at the same time means I MUST be prepared to shoot my pictures during nap time. I cannot wait until after they go to bed. Natural lighting (light from the sunlight) is the absolute best lighting for taking pictures.

The image below is taken on my kitchen table. In my opinion, it’s bright, balanced, and soft. I can see shadows, but the shadows aren’t harsh causing high amounts of contrast. The below picture was shot around 2:00PM with all natural lighting.

Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/200 ISO: 1600
Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/200 ISO: 1600

2. Turn off the lights in your house while taking pictures. Most lights give off a yellow hue when they are turned on. This will add a yellow tint to your pictures. Lighting from indoor lights is not nearly as good as natural light.

In contrast, I think the image below is terrible. This one I took in a room with all unnatural lighting. I had the ceiling light on and a lamp. My focal point was, once again, on the cashews. I could barely get enough light mustered up to get my meter above 0. Can you see the ‘dirty’ or yellowed tint in the image. Some of this can be corrected with white balance, but it will never be as good of an image as one taken in natural lighting.

Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/100 ISO: 6400
Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/100 ISO: 6400

3. Yes, you want sunlight, but no, you do not want direct sunlight. If the light is pouring in your windows right onto your subject, be sure to drape a white sheet over the window. This creates diffused lighting. You are still letting light through the window, but you are eliminating direct sunlight.

Half of the image below is in direct sunlight. Can you see the harsh shadows? Look also at the small pile of cashews. Notice how you lose the detail in the cashews on the ones in the bright sun light.

Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/1000 ISO: 100
Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/1000 ISO: 100

4. The best time to shoot pictures outside is at dawn, dusk, or on a cloudy day. Once again, you want to avoid direct sunlight on your subject, whether it be people or pictures for your blog, you don’t want the sun shining directly in your photo.

The below picture was taken out in our playhouse on a cloudy day. There aren’t any harsh shadows. The light is very even. A cloudy day makes picture taking very ‘safe.’ It leaves little room for error.

Side note: that this was one of those spur of the moment photo shoots we had since both kids were in church clothes and in a good mood. This is one HUGE advantage of learning to use your camera to its fullest. You can have a photo shoot with the kids when everyone is happy and rested. 🙂

Shade Playhouse Photography mini series part 5: What is the best lighting for taking pictures?
5. If you happen to be outside shooting pictures and the sun is really bright that day, find a spot in the shade. Why? When direct sunlight hits an object, you cannot see that object as clearly anymore. You will lose some of the detail. If you are taking pictures of people, they won’t be able to keep their eyes open if they are facing the sun. If the sun is hitting one side of their face, then their other cheek will be in the shade. If the bright sun is at their backs, their heads will turn into silhouettes. (At dawn or dusk, you can use the sun at the sides, fronts, or backs, but that is another post for another day.) If there is full sun outside, I recommend finding shade for your pictures.

Practice taking pictures in different rooms of your house near windows. You will soon find what places and spaces work best for you. The picture below is our eating area or breakfast nook.

This is the absolute best spot in our house to take pictures. Why is the below room the best spot in our house for taking pictures?

1. There are windows on two walls. (Natural light!)
2. The table, white shelves, and walls are all relatively light colors. Those objects aren’t absorbing all my natural light.
3. While the curtains aren’t white, they are thin enough that they work well to create diffused light.
4. From sun up until sun down, there is always lots of natural light pouring into these windows.
5. I can take pictures in here without lots of busyness in the background (like bright colored kids’ toys).

What is the best lighting for my pictures.
And, in case you are a bit curious about my photo props, you can see below how I staged the picture I used for this post:

Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/200 ISO: 800
Aperture: 2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/200 ISO: 800

Those are some leftover floor pieces that our neighbors put in their trash.  I pulled them out, and they have given me some great variations in my props. 🙂

What is the best lighting for taking pictures? How to take good pictures for my blog.

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