Tuesday, October 16

Coffee With Beryl: Using Available Light in Portraits

Today Beryl is posting here at CoffeeShop about different lighting scenarios in photography.  This is a great mini-lesson on using available light to shoot portraits.  Thank you Beryl!


 Does trying to figure out how to work your camera ever make you feel like this?
The #1 thing that my students are frustrated with when they bring me their photos for the first time is when they turn out dark or blurry. The good news is, a lot times this isn't a hugely technical fix. With a little bit of know how on using and manipulating light we can improve your photo issues instantly without even needing to touch the technical settings and dials on your camera. In today's little mini lesson I'm going show you 3 common lighting scenarios AND give you some homework so you can try them all out in your own photos! This lesson will transform your images no matter your camera type (point-and-shoot, phone, or DSLR) and no matter your level of technical know-how. YAY! Ready? I set these all up indoors, but all three of the light scenarios I’m going to show you can totally be observed and utilized outside too.

Your Lesson in Light

All our photos you see here were shot in Aperture Priority Mode with Evaluative Metering and were edited using the CS Velvet Peach Action at 40% opacity. Look for light first: Before we even look at specific types of light, is to search out GOOD light. What is good light? Just take a walk around your home and look around. Good light to me feels bright, airy, and open. Here you’ll see my home office which gets really nice light in the afternoon. The sun is on this side of our house at this time. See how its just steaming though the windows? Prepare for photo taking: Now that I’ve found the best location you'll see that I brought my little munchkin’ into the scene for some fun. Make a mental note of the image above and take a look at where her pink beanie seat is positioned and where she is sitting right now. I've placed her in the room without truly thinking through where the light is coming from and what position her and I should be in to use the available light BEST. This will affect the quality of our photos. Disclaimer: Brie is 2. We call her our wrecking ball tornado. Sometimes it is impossible to control her, myself, and the light. I bet you might have a wrecking ball tornado in your house too. Sometimes we have to bribe, beg, plead, shoot and hope for the best when taking photo of our kiddos. That’s ok. Today was one of those days for us as Brie was NOT interested in mommy's camera. At all. Especially in all the specific scenarios I needed to share these lighting tips with all of you! Our bribe today was the iPad and after some begging and pleading by me I actually got this busy bee under control enough to demonstrate light to you all. (you'll just have to excuse her iPad usage, disheveled hair, and funny expressions)
Photo #1 - Backlight: The first photo I took was of her comfortably seated in front of the window. But the images I shot from this vantage point all ended up with her face being in shadows like this one above. Even though this photo has an interesting mood all it's own, it isn't quite what I was hoping for. So I moved myself in the hopes I could illuminate her face a bit more.
Photo #2 - Sidelight: For this second photo I sat perpendicular to the window. This photo was lit better overall, but the light is falling more on on side of her head and on not on her face. Notice how her eyes are still a bit dark and sunken in. My end goal is to get those beautiful twinkling catchlights in her eyes and I'm not quite there yet.
The Change Up: For the last set of photos I decide to move some things around. I needed more light to fall directly on Brie's face. In order to do that I went ahead and moved the bean seat away from the window, allowing the light to steam in from the windows and brighten her face right up. Then, I sat myself in front of that window to take my last photos of her.
Photo #3 - Frontlight: Can you tell the difference?! The first thing I noticed from here was how much brighter her face was, especially her eyes. I absolutely love how her baby blues are sparkling with the catchlights being created from that window I'm sitting in front of. The other thing I noticed is how much Brielle needs a trip to the barber for a bang trim *sigh* The hair falling in her face isn't ideal, but the light here is pretty much perfect!

Your Turn

This is the best part! It's time for you to go play with the light in your house and use some of the tips I've taught you today. Here's your homework assignment: 1) Go on your own light hunt. Find a place where the light is the best in your home. 2) Practice taking photos in all three of the light scenarios I outlined in this article. You can even move furniture around like I did if it will help you capture that picture perfect moment with the perfect light. Take note of how your photos change when you go from backlight, to sidelight, to frontlight. Do you notice a difference in your images? Take 'bad' images along with the 'good', it's how we learn best. 3) Share your results! I'd love to see what you discover in your own photo taking. Hop on over to my Facebook Page and post a photo on the wall, or if you blog share your results there instead. Just be sure to leave your link in the comments here so I can take a peek and see what you create. Until next time…happy snapping! xo Beryl Ayn Young is a wife, mama, teacher, and photographer who offers photography lessons to nourish the mind, body, and soul over on her personal blog. Beryl believes in lifelong learning, photographic healing, & a glass half full perspective. She teaches e-courses and and provides photo coaching aimed at teaching you how to improve your camera skills and cherish life’s journey. Get inspired on your photography journey with one of her many freebie lessons or classes right here.


  1. What great tips!! We have a great window in our living room, but I find I'm always shooting into it because that's where the kids are playing. I can't wait to move *them* and try these tips out!

  2. Great photo lesson. And I love your pink chairs!!!

    Can you also give us some tips for shooting in "bad light" inside? I don't even take out my camera once the sun sets because everything is yellow....

  3. Thank you so much for the tips! I will try to this out & hopefully be posting a pic soon.

  4. Thank you for this awesome tutorial!

  5. Thanks ladies! Marcia --- I can definitely feature 'bad light' in a future post. Thanks for the suggestion!


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