Photography 102: Lighting

For more photography how-tos, check out: Photography 101

[WooOOoo HAPPY CANADA DAY! Okay, I just had to get that out of my system. On to the photography post...]

I’ve really started to take an interest in improving my photography since around the time I posted my photography 101 post.

After reviewing the basics, next up on the list was lighting.

Previously, I was shooting on our dining room table. Every time I took a shot, I had to move the table close to the window, and hope to goodness I didn’t get reflections in the images I was taking.

In the picture above, you can see me with my tripod, the pictures on the wall behind me, and the snow in our backyard.

Avoiding reflection mission = fail.

It just wasn’t working. So naturally, I came up with a plan.

Find a perfect setting

I moved from the kitchen table, to a tall + skinny window in our living room. My setup is in the corner of the room, so I can use the walls around me to rest my “gear”.

Note: the window does not have to have direct sunlight.

Left: diffusion panel (described below) | Back: particle board backdrop (purchased at any hardware store) | Right: foam board light reflector (described below)

Diffusing your light

Lighting diffusion is when you have a light (in my case, the sun), and you diffuse it with a sheer/see-through material, making the light shine through softer.

Diffusion allows the light to surround the subject, making the shadows less harsh.

Think of it this way: if there are clouds in front of the sun you’ll notice that there are fewer shadows and everything looks softer. Think of our diffusion panel as a cloud.

The proof

The images below have not gone through any post processing. The image on the left was shot with a diffusion panel. The image on the right was not.

Can you see the harsh shadows in the right picture? Look at the purple cloth. Do you see it now? Also, do you notice the reflection on the yellow bowl? Notice how the reflection is softer in the left picture than in the right.

Getting creative with light reflectors

Light reflection, or creating a “light bounce” is when you have an object opposite of your light source that bounces some of the light back onto the darker side of the image to fill in the shadows.

You can purchase light reflectors at any camera store, but I’m too cheap creative for that. Instead, I’ve created some nifty, cost effective light reflectors that fill the shadows of my images, without robbing the bank.

I started off using white paper towel. It works pretty good, but always having to hold it while you’re shooting can be a nuisance.

Then, I moved on to using a white plate. Again, a total pain to hold while shooting.

I’ve since created a tin-foil lined binder,

and my favorite – a piece of foam board with corner brackets stuck on with electrical tape. [You can find foam board at any craft store].

The proof

The images below have not gone through any post processing.

The image on the left was shot with a foam board light reflector to the right of the plate. The image on the right did not have a light reflector.

Notice the softness of the yellow bowl, and the ingredients.

Again, left with reflector and right without it. Look at the blue napkin and the details of the salad in the blue casserole dish.

They are very small adjustments, but make a huge improvement overall.

In this set below, I used the foam bounce for the left picture, and tin-foil bounce for the right. Very, very minor differences. All in all, I like the foam bounce better because it’s sturdier, and covers more area. Plus, if I get it in some of my pictures it’s not the end of the world.

I am by no means a professional, and continue to learn as I go along. I hoped you could find this info somewhat useful!

Do you use light diffusion or reflectors for your photography? Are there certain products or inventions you swear by?

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  1. I’m new to all this so I’m just pointing and shooting at the moment! I’d really like to include the quality of my photos though so this has given me a lot to consider. Thanks for sharing Leanne!

  2. Do I use them, yep! And posted about making a DIY foam board with brackets just like yours!

    http://www.loveveggiesandyoga.com/2011/04/making-lightbounces-using-light.html

    And have a new setup, too now. It’s a tri-fold white foam board that I set up on top of a big white foam board on the bottom. I put tablecloths, napkins, etc over the bottom board, and the white board in the back 1. gives a nice “neutral” backdrop and 2. bounces the light! So I don’t use my DIY little light bounces as much now, but yes, I still do.

    Love this post!

  3. Love this! Great tips and tricks for everything. And just as I suspected – can be done rather thriftily if you care to!
    If I’m shooting by a window on the fly, I almost always have to grab a piece of white paper or two to use as my light bounce. Gets the job done well enough!
    And it’s funny how we can always pick out own photos apart the most. You mentioned the reflections in the first picture, while I never even noticed them until you pointed it out! haha.

    I’ve also heard of using a sheer, white shower curtain as a diffuser. Not sure if it works, just what I heard!

  4. Thanks for the tips!! I JUST bought a tri-fold presentation board to use as a light bounce. For now I’ve just been using the white curtain that happens to be on my window as a diffuser. I really like Averie’s idea of using white foam board underneath! What kind/size tripod do you have?? I think it’ll help me greatly to have one.

    Thanks so much, looking forward to reading comments with tips and tricks!

  5. I love posts like this — I know my photography needs help and helpful tips like these do many a big difference!

  6. I love using a foam board for reflecting light, I notice a huge difference when I use it. I just got something to act as a diffuser but I haven’t gotten a chance to try it out yet! Great post, I always love reading about photography! :)

  7. Bookmarking this post!! I have a point and shoot camera so these tips are golden. Here I am thinking I needed to buy some kind of lightbox to get the kind of quality photos you take. Thank you Leanne. Putting this on my TO DO list.

  8. Love this! Thanks for this post! I need to get myself some kind of diffuser because some times I need to wait for the right light and it doesn’t always work out in my house. I need something like what you have.

  9. Thanks for sharing! I’m constantly trying to improve photography skills too, and this is extremely helpful!

  10. Great Post! I don’t think people realize that we don’t just set up food on our countertop and shoot it – Ohhh, NO – Instead, it’s a rather big production (as witnessed above). Literally, my living room (by my sliding glass doors) has become a permanent (ghetto) photo studio :) Ahh, the things we do for food!

    • Oh completely. When my friends come over and see how much stuff I have just for my blog, they’re blown away. I think it’s that “production” that I love the most though!

  11. I love this post, Leanne. your photos are always STUNNING, so it’s fun to get a peek behind the scenes ;)

    I have a couple big foam boards, I use for bounce and sometimes to block direct sunlight! I also have a couple Lowel Ego lights, which I love. I was looking at diffusers (like your round one) a month ago or so… that’s my next thing, I think! :)

    • Wow, I’ve never heard of Lowel Ego lights. Their website is awesome! Thanks for the tip :)

  12. I was just looking at alternatives for bouncing off light and this foam board idea is awesome! I think I will get some this weekend!!

  13. This is a great and easy to follow post that covers the mystery of lighting correcting. Thanks for taking the time to do this! I learn as I go and blog posts like yours are very helpful. Thanks!

  14. Your pictures really are lovely! I would like to learn to take photos more mindfully. I think I”m going to reread some of your past posts.

  15. This is incredibly helpful, thanks–wondering if you always wait for good natural light or if you use artificial lighting? I don’t have a good source of natural light for a few months out of the year, so I am looking for solutions.

    • I always wait for natural light. I have a soft box, but I didn’t like using it last year. Maybe now that I’m a bit more comfortable I can make it work this winter!

  16. I love you for doing this blog. I’m in the process of learning how to use my camera and your pictures are always beautiful. I’ve learned a ton here so thanks for taking the time.

  17. Leanne, this is a great post. I like that you are applying low tech solutions – such as the diy diffusers – to photographic problems that could cost quite a bit in the camera shop.Very clearly explained too.

  18. Great tips!! I really need these as my food photography is definitely lacking. It’s a learning process and I lack space right now, but these creative ideas can be so helpful, awesome!

  19. Hi Leanne, I just found your website, and I am in love with you!! I am a food blogging novice (launched my site in January of this year) and have been trying to learning along the way how to get my pictures to look more like yours look (which is incredible!! I’m not there yet!) Do you use a flash with your camera?

    • Aw, thanks Alissa! I do not use a flash with my camera, I’m not big into artificial lighting and try to use as much natural light as possible. Hope that helps, and good luck with your photography!

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