8 Ways to Find “The Light” and Enhance Your Photography

Here are 8 ways to help you find better light. This is not a scientific post – these are just ways I have tried to find better light and in turn improve my photography. I hope they help many of you too.  I may do some tutorials for you to expand on these in the future.  Please make notes in the comment section with your best advice on finding the light – or with your questions for future tutorials.

  1. Start with window light in your house - position your subject near a big window or doorwall on a sunny or partly sunny day. Have the subject move at different angles from the window.  Watch how the light changes – how the shadows fall – how the brighter light hits and forms shapes. If you cannot find good light on your subject then try a window on the other side of the house (facing a different direction).
  2. Look for catchlights – this applies both to indoor and outdoor light.  I find it easiest to do in open shade or window light. You can have your subject move (see next point) – or you can move – try different angles. Windows make amazing catchlights.  Big skies to do.  Flashes (especially onboard flash) usually make for terrible pinlights.  Avoid those whenever possible for true portraiture.
  3. If you must use a flash, use an external flash and bounce it off a wall or ceiling at an angle. If you can add a modifier, that is even better as it will spread the light more.
  4. Look for the light.  This is my favorite trick.  And it is so simple.  Have your subject turn slowly in a circle. Watch the light in the eyes 1st.  Then once you get good light, step back and check for how the light falls on the rest of the subject.
  5. Use a reflector.  This is not always practical or easy.  But sometimes it is the best way to get light into the eyes and onto the face. If you cannot afford a big reflector – or are running around with your kids, go get a piece of foam core.  I got 10 sheets last summer on sale.  And tried to bring it with me to the park, outside when kids played, etc.   When a piece got dented, I would let my kids draw on it.  You can even cover the foam core on one side with crumpled aluminum foil for more reflection.
  6. Look for harsh shadows and blow outs on a sunny day.  In full sun, you need to try your best to minimize shadows.  Try and find shade.  But when you do – make sure light is not peeking through and hitting the subject in spots.  Also baseball caps, buildings and trees often cast bad shadows. Watch for them.  Be aware. Relocate your subject when needed. If you need to shoot in full sun, try backlighting.  You can use a reflector, fill flash, or expose for the person and know that your sky and background may blow out.
  7. Shoot RAW. Though I do not believe in using RAW as an excuse for poor lighting and over or under exposure, it can help you by using the exposure slider, recovery slider and fill light in tricky situations.  It will NOT help you with super harsh shadows and major blown out areas.
  8. In Photoshop, you can use Touch of Light/Darkness (free here) or Hide and Seek (which is in the MCP All in the Details set and is a more powerful version of Touch of Light/Darkness) to paint light where needed and darken areas that are too light.  Again for super poor light, this will NOT save you, but for decent light it can make it spectacular.

Have fun finding the light…

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And lastly, for fun…  What happens when your kids are off school for the week, have a friend over and mom gets a new oven? Well you make cupcakes of course…

messy collage 900px 8 Ways to Find The Light and Enhance Your Photography
pin it4 8 Ways to Find The Light and Enhance Your Photography

 8 Ways to Find The Light and Enhance Your Photography

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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15 Comments and 2 Replies



  1. 1
    Deb says:

    great advice!

  2. 2
    Kim says:

    Great article with some very helpful tips..thanks!!

  3. 3
    Kansas A says:

    Perfect advice! It seems I have some sort of problem with pics (currently baseball caps on the guys) and when I come read your blog it all makes sense, fill flash (smacking hand on forehead!) Thanks Jodi.

  4. 4

    Thanks Jodi! What is your thought on exposure? Do you ever overexpose a half a stop or a stop to improve your lighting? What lighting did you use for the “The More Messy The More Yummy” shots? Did you use a reflector or a flash or was it all natural lighting?

  5. 5
    Kristen Soderquist says:

    Thanks Jodi for the great tips!!!! Very helpful!!!!

  6. 6
    Colleen says:

    Good tips. Another is to look for subtractive lighting. When you are outdoors and the main light source is open over head sky, both on clear and cloudy days, it causes the top of your subjects head to be brightest, also causing dark eye sockets, or raccoon eyes. You want to redirect the light to come into the subjects face at a lower angle, much like using a softbox in the studio. This can be achieved by placing the subject under an overhang such as trees, a porch, doorway, or a gobo such as a scrim panel, either handheld by an assistant or attached to stands. Ideally you want a scrim overhead and on one side, to achieve beautiful portrait lighting on the mask of the face.

  7. 7

    [...] Actions – 8 ways to find the light and enhance your photography (Totally love her & subscribed before [...]

  8. 8

    Not that you need any linky-love what so ever, but….I gave ya some on my #31DBBB list post. I love your site…I’ve learned so much. Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Jenny – LOVE your website address. Love the song too :) Now I have it stuck in my head. Thanks for the link up. Now to do today’s task and get people to DIGG about me – LOL – anyone?

  9. 9
    rebekah says:

    great list, jodi! thanks for sharing!

  10. 10
    jean smith says:

    i was looking at your blog after the secret workshop, but i got a new computer and lost my list of blogs-i-check. well, i came across it again and have been reading it for a few weeks and i just have to say that i am SUCH a fan…of your photography, your endless photoshop talent, and all of the awesome info you put on your blog! thanks!

  11. 11
    Rose says:

    I thought it was funny when I took my baby in to have her first photos down that they layed her on a rolling trolley with a fuzzy backdrop, rolled her over to the window and took pictures. I thought to myself “I can do that at home!!!” I thought they would take her into the studio and do something fancy with the flash umbrellas and special lighting, but no, just used good old daylight coming in through the window. Expensive lesson, wish I had read this post 7 months ago! lol. I use this trick alot now when taking pictures of my kids.

  12. 12
    Simone says:

    Thanks for the great tips. What do you think about using a gold or silver reflector? Are the white ones just the best way to go?

  13. 13
    admin says:

    Simone – I usually use white – but the other day bought a Sunbounce in silver and white. I have not used it yet – but am excited to this summer!

  14. 14
    Dave says:

    I shoot landscapes…in Texas. And if you’ve ever been to Texas, you’ll know how harsh the light can be. A combination of sandstone, water, and trees can be more of a hair-puller than a challenge. Even with filters, you’ll either blow the highlights or black-out the shadows. Tone-mapping with Photomatix, and using three (or more) bracketed shots *usually* cures most outdoor lighting problems, but not always.

  15. 15
    Patsy says:

    Hi Jodi, I love the pictures titled “the more messy the more yummy”. What lens would you recommend for me to achieve this look? I’m sure you have used your actions as well in which I am slowly affording. Thanks for the information. The aspect that I enjoy in a lens is the low aperture, looking for a great lens for children.

    • admin says:

      Patsy – I think I used the 50 1.2 for those – but even the 50 1.8 should be able to achieve that look if you have the right lighting. I used window lighting. And shot close to wide open.



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