PLAYING WITH LIGHT | Photography Shop Talk, BTS, and Tutorials

photography tutorial, photography inspiration, lighting, natural light, city light, indoor light, lifestyle photography, portrait ideas

 I love light. I've always been fascinated by its power to shape our moods, casting a spell of calm over us (think filtered light in a greenhouse) or causing fearful anticipation to erupt from our gut (bare light bulb at the end of a creepy tunnel type of deal), and everything in between.

I love the way light reflects off of concrete in the summer. I love the green tint it picks up as is shines down through spring leaves. I love sharp beams of sun cutting through a forest or through clouds. My most recent affair is with golden sunsets bouncing off lakes. And we mustn't forget about the lights of the urban night. Holy freakin cow. Those are awesome as well, and I love the challenge of sticking my subject in an ally or under a porch light and coming up with a way to rock it.

One of my favorite parts of being a photographer is that getting to play with light is actually part of my freakin' job!!! Squeal/swoon/shimmy inserted here. However, I think it can be easy for photographers to forget about all the qualities of light, to get stuck in a rut and never try new things. It's also easy to be too afraid to try new lighting situations. Don't be. I've had my fair share of stuff that I quietly stuck into the depths of my hard drive, never to show another living soul. It's just part of the learning process. The wretched mistakes were my path to the photos I love. So fellow photogs out there, be daring and try. new. things. Certain lighting makes more sense and turns me on more than others. I've learned through experimentation what that is and now it's what I shoot like crazy -- but still always experimenting more, always refining the process.

I couldn't have gotten to this point, though, if I didn't take those first steps into uncharted territory. Sure, it's scary sometime, but it's so worth it.

Here are some examples of a few of the favorite lighting situations I've ran across, molded with my camera and processed in the digital darkroom into gems I treasure.


While it's not everyone's cup of tea, I personally love the dreamy, otherworldly feel backlighting at sunset gives to pictures. I drool over Golden Hour.

1. This first image emerged from my camera very, very washed out and I wasn't sure at first if I could salvage it. All back lit photos are going to come out low contrast and without much black, so all of that has to be adjusted in post processing. This was one tough. I wanted to make sure her skin tone didn't look dead and that details in her face were maintained but still stayed true to the moment. I also didn't want it to look fake. I ended up really liking the haze and richness of the photo so I didn't make too many adjustments. The result? A chic editorial vibe. Win. And can we just talk about her expression? I love how she looks like she's about to walk off and is inviting you to come with her.

2. This image I intentionally underexposed when I shot the picture so I wouldn't blow out the golden tones of the sun. Yum. Fixed the skin tone, contrast, and over all exposure and toning for this gorgeous, drippy-sun, elegant result.

3. In this image I intentionally underexposed (quite heavily) again for richness, and stuck my camera behind a rose bush to create the hazy framing around her (that was all done in-camera, not in post).

4. I was walking with my model into another section of the park when I noticed the sun filtering down through the trees. There were little specks of pollen and insects being illuminated, floating through the air in the background. I like her angular pose against the soft, lush, glowy backdrop.

5. Here I positioned myself and the model so that the light was coming at more of an angle and not behind her. If she was the center of a clock, the sun would be at about 9 or 10. This creates that hazy glow on one side of the camera with a little bit of lens flair, and helps preserve skin tones. All of the feels.


Drool, I love city light. So moody. So unique. So my style.

6. This is about as simple as I get with city lightening. There was a really bright street light to her left, and I dug the glow of the street lights behind her. No flash of any kind was used, I just cranked up my ISO.

downtown fort wayne

7. In this image, my model is lit solely by a light that is under a railing, that's there, I guess so pedestrians can see the steps at night. I positioned her parallel under the light, and BAM. <3

8. Some types of city lights are not able to be corrected with white balance, they'll always be a weird yellow. In this instance, I liked the amber and pink hues in the image after I adjusted the white balance as much as possible, so I kept it around. I still dig it, and the framing of the stairs.

9. This image was in the same location with the same light issues as the last one. I loved the mood so I put it in a rich toned black and white.

10. Here, my model was lit only by the light coming from a store window. I had her face towards the window and lean on the glass so that her face would be illuminated. And just to show that it really isn't the camera, it's the PHOTOGRAPHER and HER SKILL that counts -- this, as well as the next 3 images, were taken with my old 6 mega pixel $450 Nikon D40. Granted, I rarely use this camera because the images don't enlarge well and it doesn't have the power to record detail like my other beasts, but once in a while I like it for certain things. Sometimes I really dig that low-quality grungy feel.

11. Holy grunge glory. <3 I used the street light behind her to create the rim light around her face and make her pop out from the background. I love, love, looooove the industrial elements of the city in this photo, so I didn't crop. I also dug the way the light was falling across the leaves.

12. Here I positioned her directly under the streetlight and put her into the angular pose, directing her to look up towards the light so I could get the "cheek triangle" and also have her face/head following the line of her arm. Love the visual interest it gives. And I love the strong vertical lines along the wall.

13. Here I had her face the street light so she was more evenly lit, and I framed her inbetween the streetlights on the other side of the street. Three ways to use a single light source, baby.

14. If you want to talk about multiple uses from one light source... dang. This city fountain gives dozens of possibilities. The colored lights change between red, green, yellow, blue, teal... I love the strong contrast between colors and the different combinations you can get. In this photo, I love how the waterfall behind her looks all glittery.

15. Same fountain, different colors, different model. Tres avant garde, non?

16. Really warm spotlight contrasting with the cool evening light. I had my subject look towards and above the light that was sitting on the ground, creating the definition and glow across her face.

17. When my sister saw this image, she gasped and said it looked like it came from Vogue. ^_^ I had my model under a porch light and positioned her so that I got that nice shadowing under her cheek bone and lower lip, and the definition of her jaw line to play up her beautiful features.

18. Here I have a different model under the same lights, but this time I'm facing the opposite direction and am shooting upwards so that I get the lights in frame for a different look. Positioned her toward the light with a similar concept as the picture above.

19. Same light, but with black and white processing for yet another feel. And how CUTE IS SHE?!!! <3 you, Tessa!

20. Here my model is being lit only by big, bright parking lot street lights.

21. Same location as the picture above, but she's turned away from the light -- breaking the rules a bit to create an air of mystery and give an editorial effect (or is it affect...? I can never ever keep them straight). Love the way the light illuminates the back of her neck and defines her messy bun.

22. Here, my model is sitting at the base of a statue. It was an overcast evening, light and background were extremely cool toned. There was a light at the base of the statue and I loved how a whisper of warmth fell onto her face from it, playing up her features, particularly the brow bone area.

23. Used the headlights of a car to get this bold look. There was no light in front of her, so it created a strong spotlight vibe with a sharp outline. Quite glam. I dig it.

24. Still in the headlights, I repositioned myself behind her and had her look back over her shoulder a bit so her face caught some light. The rest of the picture remains underexposed and mysterious.

25. Another headlight shot. I moved back and just far enough to the side so the lights themselves wouldn't be in the frame. I love the way her body creates a razor sharp line scraping across the image.


26. Here we have a very pink toned image. The sunset was very pink, and my subject was at the edge of an underpass downtown with open space out in front of her. The pink light of the sunset was bouncing off her face. I could have "corrected" it in post, but I chose to leave it as it was in real life -- beautiful!

27. Very, very late on a summer's evening I cranked the ISO up to it's limits and enhanced the light filtering in through these arches. Had her look over her shoulder towards the light to get the illumination and lovely contours across her face. I love the way there was a single pink rose blooming there, and the way its color complemented her aqua blouse. She looks like a princess in a European castle. <3

28. From that same moment. I had moved in close and changed to horizontal, but somehow the camera blurred and overexposed. I kept the image, however, because I liked the tones and because it felt like a reminder that mistakes can be beautiful, and sometimes lack of clarity reveals things we can't otherwise see.

29. INDOOR LIGHTING! Used the light coming in from the large glass wall to illuminate her face, and let the light fixtures create a sparkley backdrop behind her. Supa cute.

So there you have it. Some of my (current) favorite ways to play with light. Hope this inspires you, or at the very least sent a little brightness into your day. Remember, no matter who you are, to appreciate the beautiful glory all around you that is LIGHT.

indianapolis portrait photographer
indianapolis child photographer, teen, senior photographer in indianapolis, carmel, fishers

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