Photography Tips - How to take more creative photos using dappled light
A pivotal moment for me in my photography journey was realising that it was OK to break the rules. There are *so many rules* of photography – the majority of them are important to know and understand but it’s easy to get caught up in making *perfect* images and forget about creating images that speak to our heart.
A turning point for me came after doing a 1:1 mentor day with Amy Rushbrook. Amy is all about embracing the unconventional and imperfection and after my day with her I realised I needed to let go of this idea that I should only create images that are “technically perfect” and focus on what I was inspired by and drawn to (if you’re interested, you can read more about my mentoring experience with Amy, here-
Lifelong learning with Amy Rushbrook ).
What it kept coming back to for me was that I KNEW I looked at light and movement and spaces differently than people around me. Sometimes I will tell my husband midway through a movie that we need to rewind because I missed a major plot line when I was distracted by dancing shadows on our wall. I’ve had a number of confused looks from strangers in the street who think I’m staring at them, when actually I’m just admiring an interesting pocket of light that they’re standing in. Whenever I am taking a photo of my kids and ask them to stand somewhere in particular, my daughter just looks at me now and says “in the pretty light?”… in fact, *proud mum moment* a few weeks ago she actually pointed OUT some gorgeous dappled light in my bedroom and I almost cried with joy.
LIGHT…IT’S KINDA A BIG DEAL
Ok, so most photographers will agree that if you want to create something special with an image, you need to harness the power of LIGHT. Is it the *only* thing that matters ? No, of course not – I’m never going to NOT take a photo of a moment or connection because the light is not perfect… but, if given the choice, I’m going to try and make moments happen somewhere the light is interesting or more impactful.
In my home, for example, I know there are certain spots in my house that will get dappled light / interesting shadows at certain times of the day – my bedroom in the afternoon in winter get’s really nice light just over our bed and when I play with my venetian blinds, the shadows create something fun to experiment in.
LEARN THE RULES, BUT THEN BREAK THEM
If you’re just starting out in photography – chances are, you’ve read or being taught to avoid dappled light at all costs. And that’s true – to an extent. It really comes back to my first point about knowing the rules in order to break them. Because yes, dappled light when not used purposefully isn’t great…if you have dappled light on your subject because you weren’t thinking about where they were placed in relation to the light, that’s definitely a problem. However, if you’re being intentional and/or experimental then you’ll start to realise you can create magic in all the places you were originally taught to avoid.
STUDY THE LIGHT IN YOUR HOME
We get this tiny pocket of morning light in our loungeroom for a couple of months in summer.. unfortunately it’s right where our built in entertainment unit/TV is, so it’s a really small space to work with and as a lover of wide angle shots… it’s a great challenge for me trying to capture something in that space!
My favourite place in our house for light is at our front door (image below) in the autumn/winter months in the afternoon – it’s one of my favourite spots to photograph the kids and it almost makes me look forward to the cooler months just knowing I’ll be able to play around there.
My top 7 tips for experimenting with dappled light
1. Study the light in your own home
The light in your home will change depending on the room, the time of year and time of day and it’s super helpful to know where the best pockets of light will be and when. Pay particular attention to early morning and late afternoon light compared to middle of the day light – notice how dramatically that changes things
2. Make sure that you are underexposing in-camera
You can always bring up the exposure on your subject in post-processing but it’s REALLY hard to get back the details in shadows that are overexposed
3. Start off taking photos of still objects in dappled light before you try to master photos of your kids or people
It really helps to get to know your cameras dynamic range, understand how far you can push your settings and work out what settings work best for you when exposing for different types of light. Play around with editing your image in lightroom/photoshop, to see how much wiggle room you have when you’re underexposing.
4. Look for interesting shadows that are cast by door frames / windows / blinds / trees & plants
Don’t feel like you need to be limited to having your proper camera with you when you’re photographing shadows, either. You can still capture all sorts of interesting light with your iphone, you just have to notice it!! Check out the photo below, shared on instagram by the lovely Jayne from Mamas Angels - it is an iphone photo taken by Jayne’s 12 year old daughter, Yasmin - such a beautiful reminder that we don’t have to wait until we have our proper cameras with us to create beautiful images with dappled light.
5. When I’m taking photos of my kids, I find the easiest thing to do is direct them to an area where there is dappled light and ask them to PLAY in the light
Get them looking in the direction of the light (if that’s what you’re wanting…I tend to like that as it illuminates their faces) by asking them if they can see something in the sky or asking them if they can see a rubbish truck outside or a bird in a tree (or whatever it is that they are interested in that might get them to focus on something for more than half a second).
6. Try editing in black & white
Whenever you are shooting with strong highlights and shadows it tends to create an image with lots of contrast – lots of contrast often makes for really strong black and whites (and as you can probably tell from many of my example photos here…I often tend to lean towards converting these types of images to black and white!). If you find your usual black and white conversions are a little flat or lacking something, you might find this gives them the impact you have been looking for.
7. You’ve gotta be prepared to fail
When you’re experimenting in light that is different to what you normally shoot in or with a new technique you need to be prepared that sometimes you will take 100 photos and be disappointed with almost all of them… any time I’m experimenting with shadows / dappled light / harsh light, I only keep a TINY amount of the photos I take as it can be really hit and miss (especially with un-cooperative /fast moving children!). It can sometimes be really disheartening to see so many failed attempts when you have something really clear in your mind but it is SO important to embrace these failures – when you’re looking at all of those images that are craaaaaaap – ask yourself WHY. Chances are, you can probably pick out a few things that can help you do it better next time, like-
“ahhhh I wish I had have moved her to angle her face slightly to the left so that she was facing toward the light”
“bloody hell those shadows are waaaay too overexposed, next time I need to be more conscious to underexpose a little bit so I don’t blow out the shadows”
“holy crapsticks they’re all blury!! Why was my shutter speed so low!? I should have increased my ISO so I could have had a higher shutter… what was I thinking…1/100…I’m as bloody unsteady as they come and need to operate at a minimum of 1/250”
(welcome to the inner workings of my mind….terrifying, isn’t it?)
8. Learn from said failures
The good news though, a lot of the time – these mistakes are SUPER easy fixes and can be solved by simply slowing down and shooting with intention (easier said than done when you’re trying to photograph highly temperamental toddlers, I know!). Generally once I make a really obvious mistake that I can pick up afterwards, I’m SUPER conscious of it the next time I’m shooting and pay really close attention to it. Actually, I tend to learn a hell of a lot more from shoots that go badly compared to the ones that go smoothly and without issue! When shoots are constantly going smoothly, it tends to mean I get comfortable and comfort tends to be a place that we enjoy staying within for a little too long…. and you know the saying, “great things don’t happen inside your comfort zone”! So, next time you take 100 photos of your kids and they’re all rubbish, don’t beat yourself up, just give some thought as to WHY they didn’t work the way you wanted them to. Use it as an opportunity to grow and to learn and I bet you find that the next time you’re shooting in that light situation, you’ll see improvements!
If you want to photograph in a more creative and genuine way – you first need to understand how to use light, learn the rules and then be happy (and brave) enough to break them. When photographing in dappled light, you may find it useful to:
1. Study the light in your home
2. Underexpose in-camera
3. Start off taking photos of still objects in dappled light
4. Look for interesting shadows
5. If you’re taking photos of kids, get them to play in the pockets of light – then get their attention on things that are outside (and where the light will illuminate their face) by asking them to look for birds/planes/garbage trucks etc.
6. Shadows + highlights = contrast (simple math). This usually makes for more impactful black and white images
7. Be prepared to fail
8. But make sure you LEARN and GROW from those failures
OK, now it’s over to you. I want you to go out today and start noticing the light in your own home and start experimenting with pockets of interesting / dappled light in your own home! Whether you have an iphone or a proper camera, either post a photo to your instagram story or to your feed and tag me in it - let me know how you’ve gone and if you have ANY questions at all, I’m more than happy to answer them!
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