Photography Tips | How To Work With Lighting
When I first started fashion blogging, people were puzzled as to how I could get my photographs to look so bright during the grey and dreary Winter.
Looking through my old personal style blog posts, you’ll see a lot of comments from bloggers asking how I got my photos so bright when it has been overcast for weeks. Firstly, it was a big help to use 50mm camera lens, this is a lens that lets more light in.
But also, choosing to shoot at the right time of day was really important lot. I totally understand that not everyone can be as flexible with time and if that’s the case, you may need to have a few basic little tricks up your sleeve!
Use Natural Lighting Whenever Possible – But Not Mid-Day….
This one took ages for me to get my head around. We all know that the brightest time of the day is mid-day, this is when the sun is strongest (providing the weather is nice, of course!)
When relying on a natural light source, the urge to go outside on my lunch break to take a few outfit photos outdoors is far too tempting but I’ve learnt to hold myself back, because I find that it causes a few issues when you’re taking photograph at this time of day.
Mid-Day lighting is too harsh and when the sun hits at the wrong angles, the unwanted shadows can be unflattering and it can highlight ALL the flaws on my skin. Eeeeks!
This, of course, only applies when we have a bit of sunshine which is very rare in the UK! I know that not everyone is flexible with time, and this doesn’t suit everyone’s style (plus, the weather in England is usually pretty yucky – when it’s cloudy and overcast, you just want to go out there and get things done before it gets dark!)
But if you shoot at the weekend and it happens to be bright and sunny, go out there at about 4-6pm when the sun is lowering and experiment with angles. Shoot into the light with the sun behind you and see what happens!
Shoot in RAW
So, what about when natural lighting is a bit “off” or totally unmanageable? Perhaps it looks too dark outside to take decent photos? Well, this is a trick I picked up from professional photographers. Shoot in RAW format! It gives you a huge advantage and I have come to realise that it can help SO MUCH in low-light situations.
Firstly, you will need to change this on your camera settings so that it shoots in RAW (files ending in .nef) instead of jpeg. Professional photographers shoot in RAW format because this gives a tremendous amount of flexibility to adjust the white balance and any lighting imperfections in post production.
I’d imagine that wedding photographers would benefit from shooting in RAW as they only have one single chance to capture the shot and get it right for their client. There’s also less pressure when you shoot in this format because it is possible to fix things post production. For bloggers, shooting in RAW just gives you a bit of ease where lighting is a concern.
Above is an example of how much difference can be made to an image in RAW format by using an image software like Nikon View NX. You will need to edit in RAW (.nef) before you convert to jpeg. There are lots of things you can do on this but for example, by tweaking the exposure on a RAW photo, it “fixes” the image by correcting the lighting and the reason it can do this is because the file still contains all the raw camera and lens data (as opposed to jpeg which is a flattened image) This allows it to give a more consistent and predictable effect when adjusting the exposure, compared to the same process on a jpeg in photoshop.
It’s a very good tool to use to amend your lighting issues and improve the photograph, but it is by no means a magic wand, and you shouldn’t rely on this 100% to get the lighting right.
However, it does allow you to get away with shooting photographs that are a bit darker and under-exposed, as you can lighten them up afterwards using the RAW format. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that its better to slightly under-expose than it is to over-expose, I won’t go into the details right now as the explanation behind this is quite long winded.
The only thing I don’t like about shooting in RAW is that the files are really big and it can take up a lot of space on your memory card. You also have to convert your images to jpeg before uploading it to your blog which can take ages.
Get Creative With Flash
Flash photography isn’t something you see a lot of in the world of fashion blogs, and a lot of fashion and beauty bloggers even rule it out completely but actually, I think using the flash is fine if you are going to for an edgy, white-out “studio” look.
Using the flash makes the image sharper, and if you use in the right way, the whole thing can look really nice in a 90’s style. It can be quite hard to get it right as there may be light bouncing off in areas you don’t want it to (for me, this would be my glasses), and although it’s not necessary, you might require a good quality (possibly external) flash for this.
As you can see in the image above, I’ve used this technique on my blog before with the use of an external flash. Some of these shots came out quite dull and blue, so you may find that the white balance needs altering but this is very simple to do on your camera settings, and also post production.
I love flash photography depending on the situation and in some ways, it’s easier than relying on a natural light source, but personally, I can’t always pull off the edgy look and and I don’t think it is right for my blog. I prefer relying on natural lighting for a softer finish to my photos for now but I wouldn’t eliminate the option of using flash photography. A bit off-topic but this photo makes me want to dye my hair again!
Learn How To Use The Manual Settings
This is an obvious one but you’ll need to set your camera settings properly based on factors like lighting. That is the beauty of Digital SLRs! But I definitely understand how hard it is on dark and cloudy days to get the right balance between natural lighting and your camera settings, especially with so many aspects to consider.
There are different ways to use the settings depending on what you’re photographing. For a blog like my own it is fairly straight forward, especially with beauty product photography where the object is completely still. Basically, if you’re shooting in manual mode, the three settings to consider are: ISO, shutter speed and aperture.
For bright days, use a low ISO setting. In low light situations, use a high ISO setting but be aware that the higher the ISO, the grainier your photos will be (the lower the ISO, the crisper and sharper your photos will be).
Next, thing to do after that is set shutter speed and aperture. Aperture (or F-value) settings are how wide the lens aperture is opened. Opening up the aperture to a low setting such as f/1.8 will allow more light in to the lens and give a shallow depth of field.
The shallower the depth of field, the more bokeh (blurry) your background will be which is perfect if you want to focus on one single object, like a beauty product for example. If you want a flatter image and to capture more details of the background, turn this setting up. By doing this your image will be darker, which means you will have to balance this by turning the shutter speed down. The infographic cheat sheet guide above illustrates what settings you should have your camera. It’s all about balancing the ISO, aperture and shutter speed depending on the light that’s available to you.
So, those were my tips on how I work with lighting, but if any of you have any quick tips for myself and other bloggers, please pop a little comment at the end of this post. I’d also love to know whether you guys prefer natural lighting or flash photography. I use slighting different techniques for my beauty blogpost photos so let me know if you’d like me to write something up on that too.