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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photography tips to help take better photos in dappled light

Realities of running your own photography business

Talking all things money, work/life balance, mindset and the day to day realities of running a photography business

I’m very aware that I don’t share a huge amount of behind the scenes stuff when it comes to the business. I find it SO much easier to share the beautiful images of my gorgeous clients than I do to talk about myself. But what I’ve noticed recently is that many people (including my friends/family) seem to think I’m living a different, perhaps more exciting and successful small business life than I really am.

Now, full disclosure – I LOVE my business and I am really *really* proud of what I have achieved – but with the highs, there are also plenty of lows! And so I guess I just wanted to give you a bit more of an honest insight into what small biz life has looked like for me these past couple of years and some of the things I have done to actually make it work.

Often I work from home in my PJs on the couch…sometimes I get dressed and sit at my desk like a grown up! Image credit: Lecinda Ward Photography

Often I work from home in my PJs on the couch…sometimes I get dressed and sit at my desk like a grown up! Image credit: Lecinda Ward Photography

What is REALLY involved in the day to day of running a photography business

Running a photography business involves about 15% actual photography. The majority of my work is editing, marketing, copywriting, accounting, education, administration, planning and customer service.

I think one of the BEST things I have done (and am continuing to do) for my business is investing in non-photography related education. I’m a podcast addict but I very rarely listen to photography podcasts – I listen to business/marketing podcasts. I have invested in copywriting courses, social media and SEO workshops and business mentoring (I’m going to write another blog post to talk a bit more about the best things I’ve invested in for my business soon!).

I also have a background in social work and administration so I started small biz life with a fairly solid grounding in working with and connecting to people, as well as having a fairly detailed and organised admin brain - both of which have been an enormous benefit. When it comes down to it, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that in order to be more successful, we need to be better photographers - but you need to be able to do a hell of a lot more than take decent photos if you’re going to have any chance of running a successful photography business.

The work / life juggle - what that looks like for me

Me and my babies - Image credit: Amy Rushbrook Photography

Me and my babies - Image credit: Amy Rushbrook Photography

Our kids go to childcare 3 days per week - I work from 7am-4:30pm on those days. I do newborn shoots midweek and then try to schedule sunset/sunrise family sessions for the weekends. More recently I’ve started trying to keep one weekend free per month and book extra sessions in on the other weekends so that we can have one full weekend together as a family each month (I find it hard to switch off and be fully present at home if I know I have a shoot later that day).

I also try not to work nights..buuuuuuut, I’m failing (miserably) at that lately!

Having the kids in childcare those 3 days really is a godsend. As a mum, I think maybe it’s just hardwired into my brain to feel some level of guilt about it but I’ve come to realise that I am a MUCH more present and happier as a mum when I have set days for work and set days with my kids. I do try really hard not to work on the days I am home with the kids and I feel good about doing that when I know that I have my child-free days around the corner.

Also – having the kids in childcare gives me more time to focus ON my business rather than just working IN the business and without doing this I don’t think I would have been able to grow the business in any real meaningful way.


Money, money, money, monnney (monnnnney)

I contemplated not including this next bit, but hey, I feel like I’m on a roll and that it’s important to share…On average, I usually work around 50 hours per week in and on my business (when I actually sat down and calculated that, it was a bit of a shock!!)

After expenses, tax and super, the salary that I actually take home from the business is only JUST starting to break even with what I would earn working PART TIME in a social work role (which is what I was doing before I launched the business).

I’m sure there are plenty of people that could successfully work less and earn more that would be reading this and questioning what the hell I’m doing!! And sure, maybe I have some improvements to make, but this is just where I’m at right now.

But seriously, I really do believe that if you’re thinking of starting your own photography business (or any small business really) you NEED to do it because your passionate about it, not because you think you’re going to get rich from it!! Because the thing about working those 50 hours a week ? I freakin love it. Sure sure, some nights I would much prefer to be sleeping rather than editing, and sometimes I’m a living nightmare to be around because I’m feeling like I’m dropping the ball in all aspects of my life..but ultimately, I’m passionate about the work I’m doing and so it makes the long hours worthwhile. If I was in this to make a quick buck I’m fairly certain I would have thrown in the towel a few months in!

Getting my head around my business finances

On the topic of money, financially one of the best things I did was read the book profit first (thanks to the hot tip from my photographer pal, Lecinda!) – it gives you a really clear and simple way to manage your business finances. I’m embarrassed to say that for the first 18 months of business, I had all of my business income going directly into our shared personal accounts and I treated it *all* like my salary… I was, of course, aware that I would need to pay tax and I was conscious of making sure we weren’t spending everything and that there was enough in our savings to cover what I thought my tax bill would be – but it was all just guesswork and I never really had a clear picture of the businesses financial position. I also felt like I had to use OUR money to buy anything I needed/wanted for the business, so felt the need to run every purchasing decision past my husband first.

Now I have 4 different business accounts and each week I transfer a percentage of my income to our personal account (my salary) and then the rest gets divided into tax, super and business expenses.

Six months into this process and honestly, I can’t tell you how good it feels to have such clarity on the business financials! So mentally freeing!!

Around the same time we started following the Barefoot Investor for our personal budgeting and the powers combined of those two systems have been life changing! No exaggeration!

very rarely do I look this cool, calm and collected when working from home.

very rarely do I look this cool, calm and collected when working from home.

Living month to month

One of the really challenging aspects of running my own business, for me personally, is never knowing what the next month is going to bring – the business is still only 2 years old and when I look at my busy/quiet periods in that time, I’m yet to work out a really clear and predictable pattern.

Sometimes, I will book out a month and a half in advance and I always feel a huge sense of relief when this happens, because then I know next month is going to be OK. But more often I get to the start of a new month and I still have a few sessions to fill and I’m not going to lie, it makes me anxious because then I know I need to hustle to hit my targets for the month.

On that note – my salary is different every.single.week. Some weeks I have a bunch of invoices due at the same time and it’s happy days and other weeks …..nada. Getting used to that and adapting to no longer having a reliable/consistent income is hard and takes some time to get used to!

Mindset matters

The last thing, and for me, this is probably the thing I struggle most with…imposter syndrome. I tell people ALL.THE.TIME, not to compare yourself to other people, everyone is at a different stage of their creative / business journey…you should only compare yourself to where you were 12 months ago (that really is awesome advice) but maaaaaan, it can be HARD to practice what you preach!

It’s something that bothers me less now than it did 6-12 months ago and I do think I have gained a little more perspective and I have a bit more insight into when my self-talk is particularly negative and unhelpful (and irrational) …but honestly, there have been times where I look at my work and feel like I’m a complete fraud.. like, I’ll look at a photo I’ve taken and my self-talk is all -

“this is the worst photograph anyone has ever taken in the history of the world… who are you to ask people to pay you money to do this!??! Boo Jess, BOOOOOO!”

Friends or clients will compliment my work and I try and explain their compliments away -

“oh you HAVE to say that because you’re my friend”

“yeah, you think I’m talented but you haven’t seen *insert 10000 other amazing photographers* work… if you saw what THEY created, you would throw garbage at me!”

I have completely self-sabotaged myself and talked clients out of booking me for jobs that I haven’t felt good enough to do (I did this really recently, I’m embarrassed to admit). I STILL get nervous before sessions and sometimes lose sleep over feeling like I haven’t done a good enough job.

In saying all of that, there have been some pretty gigantic improvements in my mindset this past year. Although I still get nervous – I don’t get anywhere near as nervous as I used to and I don’t lose anywhere near as much sleep as I used to! When I get a booking enquiry now, my first instinct is not to reply and say “are you sure you want to book me!? Haven’t you seen X,Y,Z photographers work!?”.

I’m more confident than ever that I can produce images my clients are going to love and also fairly confident that I can provide an overall experience that will be enjoyable for them. That’s a REALLY nice headspace to be in.

I like to coordinate my outfits to the colour of my house, wherever possible.

I like to coordinate my outfits to the colour of my house, wherever possible.

PHEW…so there you have it… I have tried not to hold anything back here and I hope you have found the realities of my experience of small biz life either relatable or useful! There are many amazing and rewarding highs and ultimately I’m so happy to be able to do something I’m truly passionate about… but I just wanted to share that there are lows too - there are hard bits and some days/weeks/months there will be more hard stuff than good stuff !!

I’m going to put together another blog post soon, sharing some of the things I have benefited the most from and found the most useful since starting my business, so stay tuned for that one.

Also, if you want more of a behind the scenes look at business, photography tips/tricks and access to discounts and special offers, feel free to join my mailing list ! There is a discount just for subscribing and I never ever EVER would spam you with painful salesy stuff. Pinky promise.

photography business tips - the realities of running your own photography business - By Jess Worrall Photography

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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