Photography Tips - How to take more creative photos using dappled light

photography tutorial - how to take more creative photos using dappled light - Jess Worrall Photography
before and after edits and photography tips

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.


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.

how to take better photos using dappled light

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.


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.


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.  

photography tips for using dappled light

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.

Image credit - Jayne’s 12 year old daughter - Yasmin. Beautiful work Yasmin!!

Image credit - Jayne’s 12 year old daughter - Yasmin. Beautiful work Yasmin!!

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.

how to take better photos of your children in dramatic light

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 tips for photographing kids in dappled light

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:

photographing dramatic and dappled light - creative photography tips

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!

If you found this tutorial helpful, I would love for you to share it with your friends.

Good luck!!

Oh and also, if you don’t want to miss future tips / tutorials, make sure you sign up for my mailing list - there is a VERY special discount for anyone that signs up.

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20 tips to get your kids to smile naturally in photos

photography tutorial – 20 tips to help you get more natural smiles when photographing your kids

”Johnny darling, say cheeeeeeese” …… Johnny’s mouth suddenly transforms into a terrifying grimacing upside down frown

“Oh good lord, no no Johnny, just smile normally”…..

“Johnny, commmmme on, just ONE QUICK *NORMAL* SMILE” spoken through gritted teeth

“Seriously Johnny, PRETTY PLEASE, just smile nicely so mummy can take one decent photo” frustration levels rise

“Oh for god sake Johnny, never mind, all I wanted in life was just this ONE photo but I suppose I’ll go have a glass of wine instead” cracks open a bottle of sav

Sound familiar ?? Well, it happens to the best of us don’t worry!!

Getting genuine smiles out of your kids is not as difficult as you might think!!

Getting genuine smiles out of your kids is not as difficult as you might think!!

Ok ok, so maybe I have slightly over-dramatised this scenario, but you can see the point I’m trying to make, right!?

The thing is, the majority of young (and old) kids just cannot turn on real and/or natural smiles at the drop of the hat (lovely innocent and genuine little souls that they are!) - BUT, it’s not as difficult as you might think!!

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What not to do…

Well, number one, try to avoid doing what I’ve just outlined above…

But also, unfortunately the ever popular “SAY CHEESE” generally doesn’t really achieve much either - other than bringing out those fake / cheesy / slightly terrifying smiles.

Unsurprisingly, having an adult repeatedly tell them to smile also tends not to work on little kids (or…anyone, really).


Bribes MAY work, but use them sparingly, otherwise you’ll end up with a Pavlov dog situation where every time your little one sees the camera, they start salivating for treats (did someone say treats!?).

So instead of making these common mistakes, try using some of these tips the next time you are trying to get a genuine smile out of your little one for the camera.

My top 20 tips to help get your kids to smile naturally in photos

Singalongs for the smiley, joyful win!

Singalongs for the smiley, joyful win!

1.       Sing their favourite song to them

2.       Ask them who they love the most in the whole wide world

3.       Ask them who is the smelliest person in their family

4.       Get them talking about an activity that they love to do (and let them do it after you’ve finished snapping - and then, you might find that once they’re doing said activity, they are even more likely to give you some real genuine smiles)

Peekaboo - fun for babies, toddlers and preschoolers

Peekaboo - fun for babies, toddlers and preschoolers

5.       Ask them what their favourite animal is (then ask them what noises that animal makes….now, go onnnn, make a few of those noises yourself)

6.       Play peekaboo (works on babies and STILL works on my 4 ½ year old!)

7.       Ask them if they know how much you love them

8.      Compliment them – tell them the things YOU love most about them

dish out the compliments - “ohhh you are the BEST big sister in the whole world, I love how gentle you are with your baby brother, how lucky is your baby brother to have you as his big sister”

dish out the compliments - “ohhh you are the BEST big sister in the whole world, I love how gentle you are with your baby brother, how lucky is your baby brother to have you as his big sister”

9.    Toilet humour…basically just say “bum” or make fart noises

10.   Ask them to do the biggest jump they can / or most beautiful ballerina twirl (be ready to capture the look on their faces straight after they do it)

11.   Take the photo of them standing on one leg and pretend that you’re losing balance and about to fall over

12.   Recite some lines from their favourite book (c’mon, we all know you’ve read it 1000  times and know every page of Hairy McLairy word for word)

Tickles have a high success rate!

Tickles have a high success rate!

13.   Tell them you’re coming to tickle them (and do it - only if they like it!)

14.   Tell them they are not allowed to smile  - *never ever* and that it might break your camera if they smile – then just keep saying to them things like UH UH, NO SMILING, you’re never allowed to smile OK, I’m serious!! HEY!? Is that a smile I see!? Stop that you cheeky monkey!! Chances are, they aren’t going to be able to keep a straight face forever

15.   Tell them to pull their silliest face, then their scariest face, then their funniest face (and so on) -  and be ready to capture some genuine smiles/laughter afterwards

If you’re happy and you know it…. clap your hands!

If you’re happy and you know it…. clap your hands!

16.   Bust out some of your most ridiculous dance moves (my go-to is the one legged running man, but you do you)

17.   Ask them if they’re excited for *insert fun thing they are doing today / this week / this year!*  

18.   Ask them to give you a high five, and then react super dramatically like it was the biggest high five anyone has ever given anyone in the world

If you look really closely, sometimes you can see Elsa in my camera !

If you look really closely, sometimes you can see Elsa in my camera !

19.   Ask them if they can see *insert their favourite animal or TV character* if they look right into your camera – some kids will nod happily (which I find hilarious) but others will say “no” – if they say no, I start hitting my camera and saying it must be broken and pretend to be shocked that it’s not working

20.   The final tip is a “choose your own adventure” situation – as in, you know your child and what they love / find hilarious more than anyone in the world – so, think about what makes your child happiest and talk to them about that thing OR what always makes your child laugh uncontrollably and do that…. For my daughter, whenever I say “foo foo valve” she falls about the place in hysterics and for my son, if I touch my nose and pretend to sneeze, he cracks up… chances are, NEITHER of those will work on your kids but you will have something else a little bit special or unique that works for you

this is the reaction Elise has to me saying “foo foo valve”

this is the reaction Elise has to me saying “foo foo valve”


Bonus tip – PATIENCE IS KEY when photographing kids. Sometimes no matter how much of a fool you make out of yourself, your little one just ain’t gonna feel like being photographed or smiling (who here can relate?!) and if you try and force it – chances are they’re going to start to form a pretty negative association with the camera… so listen to them when they tell you they want you to stop.  Go get a snack, have a break, play a game together and try again later.


Bonus tip 2 - Your kids are going to pick up on your energy, so if you’re getting annoyed or frustrated at their lack of cooperation, they’re probably going to start feeling the same…. Again, take a break, get a snack and come back to it later.

Do you have any tips to add to the list !? What ALWAYS gets a laugh or smile out of your little ones?

Please feel free to share this post with anyone you think might benefit from some of these tips and sign up for my mailing list if you would like to receive tips like this straight to your inbox!

If all else fails, grab yourself a go-pro, a boogie board and head to the beach! The smiles will be on for young and old!

If all else fails, grab yourself a go-pro, a boogie board and head to the beach! The smiles will be on for young and old!

Melbourne Maternity Photographer - By the seaside

I’m just gonna say it….

I have the best clients ever!

Honestly, Nhi & Joey could not have been more fun, more adorable or more adventurous if they tried !! Can you believe that this is what “we are awkward in front of the camera” looks like !? Ummmmm, say what now!?

Newborn photography and family photography sessions where there are babies and kids involved are a GREAT way to ease some professional photoshoot awkwardness - because they give the adults something to focus on OTHER than the camera. I’m not going to lie to you guys, maternity sessions where there are NO newborns or children involved can sometimes feel a wee bit more awkward…because it’s just us and your baby bump…no wild distractions…dum dummmmm.

My 2 biggest tips for dealing with those nervous butterflies and the photoshoot awkwardness are -


Seriously, MOST PEOPLE feel awkward when a camera is pointing at them… I sure as hell do ! But if we can all just acknowledge that fact and then you can both laugh with one another about how you feel like complete nutters, you can do your most ridiculous zoolander poses and shake-it-OFF! Because honestly, all those awkward laughs and stupid jokes almost always end up in real genuine laughs and smiles once you’ve warmed up a little. Plus, you probably FEEL more awkward than you actually look - Joey & Nhi were so relaxed and at home with one another that any awkwardness they were feeling just didn’t translate into their images at all. Am I right or am I right !? (spoiler alert…I’m right #ialwaysam #askmyhusband).

2. Find a photographer who makes you feel comfortable

It’s OK to feel a bit awkward, but you still should feel comfortable and trust in your photographer!! A good photographer will help to guide you to be your most natural selves, help you to connect with one another, photograph you in a flattering way and reassure you along the way ! Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer to have a chat on the phone before you book with them, to make sure you will be a good fit for one another.

For me personally, my approach is light-hearted, fun and as I’m a bit of a dork (some may say that’s an understatement), this often helps people to feel a bit more relaxed! Plus, I make sure I get to know a bit about you guys before our shoot so that I can tailor the session to best suit YOUR needs! Oh, and I’m super clumsy, so if you’re one of those people that laugh at other people falling over or slightly injuring themselves (who isn’t?) you’re in luck!!

Anyway, back to my gorgeous clients…. would you look at them please!? The last magical light on a cold winters day on the Mornington Peninsula… and it could not have been more perfect!!

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Lols. Sorry Joey, but Nhi’s baby bump is way cuter than yours ;)

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Win a Newborn or Family Photography Session !!

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please note this competition is now CLOSED

psst…guess what guys!?

I’ve teamed up with the wonderful Krystal from House of Harvee to GIVEAWAY a family or newborn lifestyle photography session (valued at $800) to one lucky winner on Instagram !!

It is SOOOO super simple to enter… All you need to do is -

1. Follow House of Harvee on instagram
2. Follow Jess Worrall Photography on instagram
3. Like this competition post on House of Harvee’s IG feed
4. Tag a friend on the competition post who you think would love to win this too !

Tag additional friends in separate comments for extra entries.

Run, don’t walk, as the competition ends on the 29th September 2018 at 8pm, with the winner announced on the 30th September !!

There are some kind of boring (but important and necessary) terms and conditions which you can read here .

Oh, and while i’ve got your attention, keep on scrollin’ down and check out the newborn photography session that I did for Krystal and her beautiful family after they welcomed their 3rd baby, Avery, into the world. Krystal is an INCREDIBLE interiors stylist and lifestyle blogger, if you’re not already following her, you really need to check her out (side note - I want Avery’s nursery to be my adult bedroom…i’d even sleep in the cot if I had to….)

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