March 22, 2021
Light! Light is literally the whole point of photography, if you don’t understand light and how it works, you won’t master photography! Now, just know that I am in no way a complete expert and still have a lot to learn but I feel like there is a huge myth that needs to be discussed. One common thing that I notice other photographers give advice to new photographers on is to only shoot during golden hour. It’s almost like this unwritten rule discussed that when you start photography in order to have good photos you cannot shoot any other time than golden hour! So, what the heck is golden hour? Golden hour is considered right after the sun rises at the beginning of the day and right before the sun sets at the end of the day. Why is this such a coveted time to take photos? Let me explain with a little diagram first: (yep, we are working with stick figures here, folks!)
When the sun is low in the sky, the light is softer and more even. It’s also flattering because if it’s lower in the sky, it’s not creating wonky shadows that are hard to work with, it’s hitting your subject from the side rather than from above. If you’re a natural light photographer, this is considered the “easiest” light to work with because it’s more forgiving and it also creates really beautiful sun-soaked photos like this:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE sucker for golden hour photography but I think early on I learned, like many, that this was the only time of the day that you could take photos and have them look nice. I just always avoided other times of the day which totally limits you in so many ways. By forcing myself to try doing styled sessions at different times of the day, I was able to learn more about where and how to place my subjects in all kinds of light to get the best results. I think it definitely helped me become a better photographer. When I used to show up to sessions that had less than ideal light I would seriously panic and lose any kind of control or sense of professionalism that I tried to portray. Now that I have made an effort to learn that not all light is created equal but can be beautiful in any circumstance (if you know what you are doing), I feel so much more at ease at my sessions and I can focus more on other things that I want to become more confident with. So, I guess my advice to any photographer that is struggling with this, push yourself. Go out at different times of the day and year and shoot. The more you do it and practice, the better you will get and you will find a whole new world of light that was once considered a no-no but could potentially elevate you as an artist. Here are some examples of harsh light/photos taken not at golden hour:
All of my Disneybounding Sessions I have done with my friend Lauren have been at times of the day with harsh light so there are some really good examples there.
Some things to keep in mind when looking at light on your subject is to avoid racoon eyes (heavy shadows under their eyes). If your subject has weird shadows on their face, start slowly turning them in place to see what the light is doing from all directions. You also want to avoid your subject looking straight into the sun resulting in squinting. If your struggle is you are getting too much haze in your backlit photos causing weird coloring, it’s because there is too much sun coming directly into your lens and sometimes it’s better to have the sun hitting your subjects from the side rather than straight behind them. I determine this from session to session. The location and weather can create so many variables at sessions so I have to decide if there is too much haze or not enough, I like a healthy balance of some haze but not too much that it’s creating weird colors which is a huge pain to edit! When shooting in harsh light, I try to backlight as much as possible, meaning: I try to keep the sun behind my subjects for most of the time. Even when the sun is high in the sky, there is still an angle and you should be able to place it behind your subject. If you’re struggling to be totally out in the open with the harsh light, try using some open shade that will still give you a lot of light but it won’t be hitting your subject directly or you could try using trees or other objects to place in between the sun and your subject diffusing the light a bit making it less harsh! One educational resource I would highly recommend is Katelyn James KJ Education Courses. I know they are a little more expensive and you might think it only applies to wedding photography but I have learned soooo much from her courses that apply to my photography business even though I don’t usually do wedding photography. My whole point in this is that you can be a great photographer in ANY kind of light and the sooner you embrace that and learn how to use light to your advantage, you will thank yourself for putting in the hard work to learn it and it will show in your photos!