Tip: Position a portrait subject near a large, bright window that does not receive direct sunlight. It makes for a no-cost softbox, no studio equipment necessary.
Think about the sun, which is something like 109 times the diameter of the earth, pretty broad! But, at 93 million miles away, it takes up a very small portion of the sky and hence casts very hard light when falling directly on a subject.
Tip: Move lamps closer to the object when photographing indoor for softer light, and move lamps farther for a sharper light.
Tip: Materials such as translucent plastic or white fabric can be used to diffuse a harsh light source. You can place a diffuser in front of an artiflcial light, such as a strobe. Or, if you're in bright sun, use a light tent or white scrim to soften the light falling on your subject.
Use a shiny refiector, though, and the light will stay fairly narrow on the bounce. The most extreme type of shiny refiector—a mirror—will keep the light focused pretty much as narrowly in the refiection.
Tip: Crumple a big piece of aluminum foil, spread in out again, and wrap it around a piece of cardboard, shiny side out. It makes a good reflector that’s not quite as soft in effect as a matte white surface—great for adding sparkly highlights.
In other words, light gets dim fast when you move it away— something to keep in mind if you’re moving your lights or your subject to change the quality of the light.
Also remember that bouncing light—even into a shiny reflector that keeps light directional— adds to the distance it travels.
Tip: Set your camera’s flash (pop-up or hot-shoe) to fill flash for outdoor portraits on harshly lit days. This will lighten shadows on your subject’s face but won’t affect the background exposure—it will fall off by then.
The same holds true for sidelighting: With a light close to the side of your subject, the falloff of light across the frame will be more pronounced than if the light is farther away.
Tip: If your subject is frontlit by windowlight, keep the person close to the window to make the room’s back wall fall off in darkness. If you want some illumination on the wall, though, move the person back closer to it and away from the window.
Tip: To retain detail in your fluffy pet’s fur, position the light source somewhat to the side rather than straight on.
Again, lighting from the side, above, or below, by casting deeper and longer shadows, creates the sense of volume. Still-life, product, and landscape photographers use angular lighting for this reason.
Tip: Try “Hollywood lighting” for a dramatic portrait. Position a light high above and slightly to the side of your subject, angled down, but not so much that the shadow of the nose falls more than midway down the upper lip.
Tip: For spark in a backlit portrait or silhouette, try compositions that include the light source. This can drive your meter crazy, though, so bracket your exposures.
The color of early morning and late afternoon sunlight is warm in tone, while open shade at midday can be quite bluish. Tungsten light bulbs cast very yellow light. And any surface that light bounces off can add its color.
With digital cameras, you can use the white-balance control to neutralize color casts or to emphasize them—for example, to add a warmer tone to a landscape or portrait. With slide film, you had to choose the right film for the light you’d be shooting in, or compensate with filters.
Tip: Landscapes shot on clear days can be very blue, especially in the shadows. Set your camera’s color balance to Cloudy, which acts as a warming filter for a more golden glow.