Special Tips on Photo Lighting and Shading

I think it goes without saying that the best outdoor light is in the early morning or evening, just as the sun touches the horizon.  You’re gonna have very little time to work with, but the effort is really worth it.  Just plan in advance what you will be shooting and put some thought into whatever you intend to shoot.  Also, remember to ensure the settings on the camera are what you want as well.  Saves time trying to adjust later when time is very important.  Just remember that the light won’t be as bright as noontime, and there are almost always some red accents to the picture for you.  They can make a normally mundane shot seem to be touched with magic by that special warm glow, but do watch out for the unwanted shadows.

If you’re shooting to give a nighttime illusion, take the pictures just after sunset.  Scenes are still quite well lit but if your timing is right, it will give the illusion that it’s after dark.  There will still be some sun rays around that will help light the scene and help bring out that needed detail.  You’ll have to experiment with this one, but go ahead and take 25 or 30 shots if you think it’s necessary.  You should also use the flash for some of the pictures, just for variation and to fill in some shadows.  Can’t hurt.


Taken with a flash, see the tree trunk?

 Looking at the picture below – it’s really a very poor picture.  Look at the upper right corner of the shot and what do you see?  Yah, Me either – all I see is a dark shadow from something.  I took the picture and I have no idea what the shadow is from.  A flash would probably have eliminated it but the effort of removing whatever it was would have been better.  Also, behind the rock is another shadow of the rock – not good.  Using a flash would have eliminated the shadow, or at least softened it considerably.  There is also a danger of getting your own shadow in a picture, so guard against that as well.  BTW, the date is also showing – most pictures – who cares, but there is that one or two where the date is good.  Preset your camera for the picture you are taking.  It’s just part of the pre-planning.  (Note:  if the flash is too bright, use a piece of waxed paper over the light to soften and disperse the light).


If you’re shooting outside and it’s rather bright, always (if you can) have the sun to your back.  If you shoot into the sun, all color will be lost and your target will be lost and show as a shadow our maybe just be an outline.   See the picture below to see what happens when you shoot directly into the sun.

Lake - Patagonia, - Arizona[1]

 Another thing to watch for in the sun, be sure that your victim (oops – subject) isn’t squinting.  I have pictures of friends taken a few years ago, against a bush with red flowers.  It could have been a good picture, but the sunlight killed it.  I should have had them under a tree in the shade, sitting at a picnic table with cool ones in their hands – and used the flash.  Even in the later evening would have been much better for the lighting.

If your trying to get a good picture of a very small object and having problems with lighting, or maybe background and other obstructions, try putting the object in a clean milk carton, lying on its side with the object inside.  It diffuses the light and gives a great clean background.  I read where a commercial photographer had multiples of boxes in various sizes, large and small – with the insides painted various colors, and that’s where she took the photos of many children’s or pets, or other smaller objects to get the pictures he wanted.  I saw some of her work, and it was very good.

The real key for good memory shots is to make the photo personal.  Shots of the kids playing with their family pet will be very special when you plan a little.  Thinking of farm life, think of a youngster with a giant smile with a newborn animal – especially an animal small enough that she can hold.

Shae June 8, 2012

This would have been a much better picture if I had used the flash, but it’s a shot that tells a great story.


About royandsherry

Roy is retired military as a radar controller, both Airborne and Ground. Spent 9 years as a Radio Announcer and retired from the corporate world after 14 years as an information analysist, working with classified information for a computer chip manufacturer. Roy is a commercial pilot (ASEL) and has a degree in Interstate Commerce Commission law. Sherry worked as an aircraft parts inventory specialist as a government employee, later as a scheduler and coordinator for a large flight school and retired from the corporate world as a legal administrative assistant for a very large computer chip manufacturer.
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