Week 4 Taking Better Pictures – Light

Shot using a giant window light with a reflector copyright Carla Coulson

To all of you who have been along for the ride in my little ‘smirkshop’ a big thank-you. This is the last week of Taking Better Pictures and my favourite subject, light.

Photography is truly about mastering, understanding, feeling light and if you can do that you are well on the way to making beautiful pictures.

I am light obsessed, I watch light wherever I am, always looking at it’s nuances, what if I move my subject a little bit to the left, or a little to the right? What happens to the light on my subject.

There are many different kinds of natural light and they all have their own unique properties. The softest light is in the morning or the afternoon if you want to use direct light on your subject and it has wonderful long shadows. Open shade gives a nice even effect, mixed light is a mixture of different types of light (could be shade and direct sun) and can be hard to manage, backlight makes for great pictures and wonderful halo’s around your subject. And of course window light, my favourite.

Morning light Noto Sicily Copyright Carla Coulson

Window light is like a soft box, it creates nice even tones or can be drammatic depending on how you use it. Light can be changed by diffusing and reflecting so you can add or subtract light depending on what you need.

Window light with direct sun hitting subject and black backdrop

Fashion pic shot using large window as only light source copyright Carla Coulson

Open Shade Copyright Carla Coulson

Here are some tips to understanding and playing with light:

1. When placing your subject look closely where the light is falling, are there any shadows, is the light flat, too strong or even?

2. Before shooting try moving them slightly to see what changes. Is the light better or worse?

3. Watch areas around where you live or work to see what happens to the light at a particular time of day, note the time when it is spectacular.

4. Always move your subject even if you are happy with your shot, change light, create variety.

5. Don’t be afraid to play, ask someone to be your model and shoot them in as many different lighting situations as possible and get a feel for what lighting situations you like.

6. Watch the light no matter where you are, see what causes the light to be better in some places than others? Reflections, light bouncing off white walls etc.

7. Have fun!!

Some great books for beginners in photography:

Understanding Exposure

Better Photos Basic

The Photographers Eye

Light the Way

Check out my Portrait Lightroom Presets here.

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Anya Adores
9 years ago

Dear Carla – thanks a gazillion for all your awesome tips – I am finding them so helpful in understanding the more technical aspects 🙂 Have a fab weekend, may the sun shine on you,


9 years ago

Ooh thank you for these excellent tips (and everything else that you have shared!). Have a great weekend 🙂

PS. Always happy to see that third image, heheh.

9 years ago

Thanks for the great tips Carla. As usual your photos are fantastic.

Jay Rowden Photography

Hey Carla

You are so lovely to share all your knowledge with us all.

I adore your work and I love your style of writing.

Thank you again for being so selfless and being an inspiration to so many.

Have a great weekend.

Jay x

P.S. Talking of shooting with available light, have you checked out the work of Australian photographer Trent Parke? I think you will dig his work.

9 years ago

Lovely Carla! I had great fun just playing around with light in Italy. The novice that I am! I loved the June mornings and late afternoon. Long shadows and plenty of texture to lap it all up…I think you’ll know what I mean. Thanks so much! Jxx

Peggy Braswell
9 years ago

Thanks for your generosity xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

the paris apartment
9 years ago

Hi Carla, thank you for sharing your wisdom, I guess we all love to hear you discuss the light! i’m inspired to go and shoot something right now!

Francesca Muir
9 years ago

Great series Carla – thank you – looking at the winter light in a new way and can’t wait to go out and shoot. Sending cool, clear Sydney winter light your way. F x

lisa chiodo | renovating italy

all my favorite photo’s of our children have been natural lighting usually coming in a window. x

This is Belgium
9 years ago

enjoyed this post, I have two of the books you recommend but confess not to have read !
natural light is the only one I manage to work with but luckily that is all that is usually available for the kind of photography I do..oof
off to the Belgian coast for a week of rest , oof
and hopefully – even tho the weatherreport does not give a bright forecast – some great light !

This is Belgium
9 years ago

Carla, have a peek at my blog today… a surprise for you 🙂

Shell Sherree
9 years ago

I’ve become so much more aware of light in the past few years. I can’t believe I used flash all the time – I never use it now {unless by accident, then it gets deleted!}, even though I’m only puddling around for fun with my basic little camera. It’s amazing seeing your examples, Carla – they are glorious. Thank you for your generous tips and pointers. Happy weekend…