Mistakes Beginner Filmmakers (and Photographers) Make... #3

by Sara Aulds 4 months ago in how to

Tip #3 Using Natural Light

Mistakes Beginner Filmmakers (and Photographers) Make... #3

Lighting is key (no pun intended) to having great photos and videos. If you have no light, then all you’re going to see is darkness. The camera doesn't see light like we do. What you may think is too much light might not even be enough to get the look you want in your shot; and the most common thing I hear from people (and sometimes myself) is “I’ll fix it in post.”


My goal is to always try to get the best exposure in camera as possible so it leaves less for me to do later. If it comes down to the point that you can't get the best exposure, then at least try to give yourself the right settings to fix it later. So many times I have set myself up for bad shots because my ISO is too high and fixing the exposure later only makes the graininess stand out more. Or a shot is too bright and bringing it down in post takes away colors that the camera washed out. Occasionally you will get those shots where post production comes in handy because you handled the production well, but not every location is going to end up that way.

Here are some differences between exposing a photo and exposing for video:

I am assuming the people reading this have some knowledge of cameras and basic terminology (ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc).

First of all, it’s not always about the camera; it’s almost always the lens. The lens is what tells the camera what aperture it can open up to which is how the light reaches the sensor. The camera measures in units called Kelvin for the lighting in the scene to help adjust your white balance. This is also helpful so you can get an idea of how much (more or less) light you will need. The best light of lighting is natural light. The sun. Whether it's over cast or direct sunlight that is going to be your best friend. However, best friends aren't always going to be perfect. This is where knowing how to adjust your camera settings to get the best in camera exposure as possible.

When taking a photo of someone outside in direct sunlight here's a checklist of what to look for:

1. Where is the sun located?

  • Is it sun rise? High noon? Sun Set? Somewhere in between? A lot goes into effect by determining where the sun is at. Shooting at high noon isn't always ideal, but if that's what you have here's how you can get some good shots. Use the sun as your key light.
  • Find a shady spot. This will reduce the shadows on your subject's face if shooting in full sunlight. However this does limit your location. If you find a meadow out in the open that looks gorgeous you won’t want to find shade, so as stated before, use the sun as your key light and bounce fill some light on the shadow.
  • Use a reflector. You can bend and bounce light in the areas of the subject that need light that the sun isn't able to reach. For example, if it's about 2 or 3 pm the sun isn't directly above and it's not at golden hour. It's in that middle sky range where it's a little too bright to where shooting your subject with their back to the sun will cause under exposure on the face or a blown out sky or both. This is where a reflector comes in handy. Place your subject with their back to the sun and have some one hold the reflector out of frame bouncing the light onto their face creating a fill light. This is also where knowledge of different lighting techniques comes in handy. Bouncing the fill onto the side of their face can reduce the shadows and brighten the face so it's no longer under exposed.
  • Sun light can also be diffused. A lot of reflectors come with multiple colors and most of them have a diffuser. Held up in front of the sun light can lessen the brightness on the subjects face, but sometimes it can diffuse a little too much or the diffuser isn't big enough and you get a shadow instead of a soft light. Overcast days are natural diffusers, more often than not I see photographs of over exposed skies and well exposed people. Which isn't always bad, but the bright sky distracts from the main focus of the photo. The person.

2. What look/genre/style are you looking for?

  • Light should be used to enhance and show off the main focus of the photo or video. Since the sun is hard to control, it's important to know how to bend it to do what you want. Knowing what you want a head of time gives you the chance to think about what time of day to shoot or if the day doesn't turn out how to want it to how to improvise. I am working on a blog on how to use artificial light. Check back for those tips which can help on those days where the sun isn't doing what you want.
  • Premeditation. If you're not a planner, then this can be hard. I tend to wing a lot of my photos, but then sometimes I get bit in the butt later because I didn't plan. There are the lucky days where you get cool shots just because you played around, but it may not be what you need.

3. Under and Over Exposure - Pros and Cons

  • As stated in the previous paragraph, light is used to display your main focus. One of the things I was taught in photography is that the brightest spot in the frame is where your eye is drawn to first.
  • Over exposing your photo or video can lead to hot spots on either the subjects face, clothes, or hair. You lose the color and detail of whatever was in those pixels making it harder to do touch-ups in post if you choose to do that. If you're like me, I try to get the best shot in camera I can so I don't have to do much editing. If I know I am going to need to do editing, then I will try to shoot to give myself an advantage that will help me in the long run.
  • HDR. You may see a setting on your iPhone called HDR. This is called High Dynamic Range. Here's how to achieve this with your DSLR. This can only be done for photos. Use a tripod. Compose your subject. Then take your photo at normal exposure (light meter is at 0-/+), then take one that's 2 stops under exposed, and then another that's 2 stops over exposed. You can also do more that are farther under and over exposed to get more details of the light and the shadows, but three photos in the minimum you need to complete this. Here are some examples.

HDR example

It is important that you use a tripod for this and keep the same f/stop; the only thing you would need to change is your shutter speed. It guarantees that you are getting the same things in the frame for each photo!

Once you have the desired amount of photos, open Photoshop and layer the photos on top of one another.

File>Automate >Merge to HDR Pro

ta da!

tweak as needed.

Concluding this, I just have to say that there is more that can be on this subject. Any questions; drop a comment! I hope this gives you a little more in-site to using the sun as your light source for photographs!

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Sara Aulds
Sara Aulds
Read next: 4 Ways To Find Inspiration As A Beginner Photographer
Sara Aulds

I am a photographer and videographer from Cincinnati, Ohio. I write as a hobby and capture reality as a profession.

See all posts by Sara Aulds