This post is meant to be for everyday shooting, and not intended to get into professional lighting techniques. That is a whole other subject to get into portrait lighting techniques, and using umbrellas, and reflectors to get the optimum light on your subject. This is meant to help you be aware of the problems you will run into in your every day photography. And this applies to whether you shoot with your cell phone or whether you shoot with your digital point and shoot, or even your DSLR. There are tricks, or problems you can run into as you take pictures that you wonder "what the heck happened". So, with that in mind, let's get started and see if we can help you understand what is going on.
First of all, I want you to think about what magnificent things your eyes are. You can look into an area and see what is in the shade, or in the shadows, and in the light, without you doing anything to adjust to that change in lighting. Your eyes do it automatically. But, cameras and cell phones don't know what you are intending on taking pictures of. Are you taking a picture of what is in the shadow or what is in the light. So, how can it adjust for both? It can't. So, you have to make those adjustments. The first and biggest problems most people run into is the "backlight" situation. You take a picture of someone inside, and they are standing in front of the door, or window. And then when you see your picture, you see a great picture of the outside, and your people are so way dark, you can't even tell who they are. Well, your camera is doing it's job. It saw the light, and assumed that you are taking a picture of someone in the light. Not the dark part. So, you need to fix that. Here is the first of example of a real backlight situation:
Who is that person? Hard to tell when the camera is exposing for all that light. So, you have to figure out if your camera can "overexpose" or if you can manually change some settings. Most cameras have this kind of setting: +1, +11/2, +2, etc. That is the easiest way to fix the problem. That would mean you would increase the exposure by that amount. Watch what happens if you increase the exposure by +2:
The subject is nicely exposed now, but the background is way overexposed, isn't it. Well, what do you want, anyway. The subject to look good, don't you. So, that is how you fix it. The picture gives it almost a dream effect, a very nice picture, or portrait effect. If you have a camera that you don't have that setting, you would have to manually overide your meter reading by 1 1/2 times to 2X more than what the meter reading said you should be shooting at, and then see which one looks better.
Next problem: Light is too dark to shoot, so I will shoot it anyway. Flash will reach and fix my problem. WRONG. I often laugh when I see flash going off in a large auditorium. Light has a certain range that it will reach. The flash on your camera is not the sun. It will only reach so far. And on your cell phone, it is about 10 to 13 feet. On the smaller point and shoot digital cameras, maybe up to 25 feet. On the bigger DSLR, they don't usually even come equipped with flash. You buy the big ones with a range of 50 to 80 feet. So, you usually get your pictures to look like this:
Nice picture. Who was on that stage again? The people in the foreground within 15 feet, their heads are great. So, in a dark room, and your subject is far away, a flash will only work within a short range. Don't use your flash. Don't use it at all. The best thing is to use natural light, and that can be a bit tricky to hold the camera still enough, because the camera will think it needs to hold the shutter open for a long time to get the proper exposure. Anyway, you can see the problem of using flash in a large dark room. It just doesn't work. Get close to your subject, or use natural light.
Here is another one that drives me crazy: "Here, let me take your picture. Do you mind standing up by the wall?" Hmmm, I don't remember you having that much hair. What happened here?
The image on the left shows the typical flash picture with the flash built into the camera, with the subject against the wall. A rather large shadow usually will accompany behind the head. So, the best thing is to move the subject away from the wall, or add more light, or use natural light from the window. But, beware of the flash against the wall photo.
One last situation: "I know my daughter is not a zombie! Why are her eyes red?"
Did you know that the back of the eye is red? So, when the subject is in a dark room, their pupils are open fairly big. And then your flash shoots off, lighting up the back of the eyeball. And thus, you get the red eye. Some cameras have the red eye reduction. Note, that is a reduction, not an eliminator. So, what it does, is shoot off some kind of light before your camera actually takes the picture, to close down the pupils more, so, that you don't notice the red eye so much. The only way to eliminate the red eye again is to get the flash away from the camera, so, it isn't shooting directly into the back of the eye. That is why you see professional photographers use their flash on a bracket up so high away from their camera, or, even hold it up higher. The light then is going on such an angle you won't see the back of the eye light up, because they are lighting up the bottom of the eye. Now, on a small cell phone camera, or a small digital camera, you can only use the red-eye reducer. If you ever wanted to make a print from this, ask the printer to take the red-eye out. Digitally it is done very easily.
Saturday, my wife and I went for a drive in the mountains, and out in to the plains of Utah. We both had our cameras, and we were excited to take pictures because the lighting presented us with a unique opportunity in the middle of the day. In my blog about taking landscape photos, I mentioned that there is that magic hour that is best to take pictures of scenery, and that was one hour before sunset, and one after sunrise. So, what do you do the rest of the day? You pray for overcast skies, and that is what my wife and I had all day Saturday. Why? No shadows! A different type of lighting for sure. I like what the sun can do to landscape photos, but, I also like what diffused lighting can do for you, like having no shadows on your photos. So, here is just a couple of photos, showing what a cloudy day can do for your pictures. You just don't have to worry about shadows and the lighting is just even all over. I think it is nice.
Just a quick note on portraits outside, when it is overcast. Note that the people are not squinting either. That just helps to make everything easier too.
There is one more tricky lighting that I will just quickly mention, and that is taking pictures in the snow, or something with white in the background. I mentioned before that I will take that on as a special subject as we get closer to winter. So, hang on to that subject for another time. I won't miss that one. For now, that is about it.
Next weeks subject: (and by request) Close-up Photography. Love that one, because the world is so interesting at close up. And most people don't know it, but, you can usually do a lot of this with your cell phone. See you next week.