6 Ways to Use Light In Your Photos

Updated: June 7, 2016 Mpix Support Guest Post, Tips

Beryl Ayn Young, Photo Mom & Mentor is back today with some amazing tips for using light in photos. If you like the post below, she’s got a free week class coming up where you can work with here even more on light and taking better photos. Learn more here. http://www.berylaynyoung.com/oneingredientfix/

When it comes to taking photos of kids, the two biggest variables in getting beautiful images are: our children (their mood, attitude, and energy) and the available light (is it sunny, cloudy, shady, etc…).

You may think, when it comes to taking better photos, that you need to gain a better grasp of the technical aspects of your camera: ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Focus. And although those tools are important, what matters even more is knowing what to do with those technical settings when all the other variables are shifting and changing around you.

Today I want to talk about light. How to survey what’s going on with it, and make a decision of how to position your subjects to use it most effectively. Not only was light the trickiest piece of the photography puzzle for me to grasp and utilize properly, but it’s also the one that, once I understood it, dramatically transformed my photos.

Below, I’ve listed 6 categories of light. Within these categories, you’ll find ideas for practicing with each type so you can set up your photos for success.



If you try to go take pictures in the middle of a bright sunny day, you may immediately see why this is a bad idea! Your kiddos will be squinting, trying hard to put on a smile, and may have harsh patches of light and shadows on their face, which I guarantee will not be a flattering look. However, colors will remain brighter and more saturated when you use this kind of light. If you plan on shooting in the direct sun, I suggest taking a more documentary approach, and capturing photos where your kids aren’t looking into the camera.


Settings: ISO 100  , f 2.2, 1/3200

Image Credit: Alicia Bruce (Love Knot Photo: http://loveknotphoto.com/)


One of my favorite techniques, during the middle of the day, is to turn subjects away from the sunlight. That means, as the photographer, you’ll be the one looking into the direct light. It can make it a little bit trickier for you shooting, but if you get up closer and take a portrait, the light should remain fairly even. The challenge here can be that sometimes faces can appear a bit darker or shadowed. But it’s usually a better scenario than the squinty faces and harsh patches of sun that occur when the midday light is more direct.


ISO 800  , f 2.8, 1/2000

Image Credit: Jo Hughes


Try to look for locations where the shade still provides access to natural light nearby. This set up of using ‘open shade’  will provide available light all around you, but it is not direct because your subject is standing in a spot that’s being blocked by the direct sun (a building, a tree, etc…). If you can, turn your subject toward the light source, and look for those gorgeous catchlights in their eyes before you shoot.


ISO 400  , f 2.8, 1/250

Image Credit: Shannon Dobbin


Just as cloudy days can make us feel lifeless, and make us want to crawl back in bed, photos taken on cloudy days can appear dull and lifeless too. The good news is clouds act as a natural diffuser, blocking the sun and ensuring the light on our subject remains even.


ISO800, f/5.6, 1/1600s

Image Credit: Jennie Verney




When indoors, you have to seek out as much light as possible. I suggest surveying an inside location for the best lit rooms, looking for big windows when you can. Turning your kiddos towards a window, and having them look outside, is the perfect way to let light in and practice achieving those coveted sparkly catch lights in the eyes.  This may require you to stand next to, or in front of, the window in order to capture the moment. If you need to stand near the light source, try not to block it!

Ambient (1)

ISO 400, f 1.8, 1/80

Image Credit: Natalie Allgyer (http://www.natalieallgyerphotography.com/)



The lights in your home can present a challenge, due the yellow/orange tint they cast on photos. The low light also makes these indoor photos more prone to a slow shutter speed and blur.  Unfortunately, the only way to fully fix the issue of color cast is with flash equipment. You can also change up your White Balance to ‘Tungsten or Incandescent’, but that doesn’t always fully correct the color tone either.


ISO1600, f/3.5, 1/320

Image Credit: Jennie Verney

If you are like me, and don’t want the hassle of lugging or learning more equipment, you may have to learn to embrace and love the warm indoor tones, or try editing these photos in black and white to eliminate the less desirable color.

To fix issues with blur, try to up your shutter speed by choosing a high ISO, and/or lower (aka widen) your aperture. You may also want to consider investing in a 35mm or 50mm f 1.8 lens because of their ability to open wide to those low low aperture values! (do words like ISO or aperture make your head spin? Check out this post where I break down technical photography for you in an easy to understand way)


ISO 1600  , f 4.5, 1/500

Image Credit: Carrie Sheetz

Beryl Young is a mother, teacher, photographer, author, and creator of the popular Momtographie Online class.  Come join Beryl for a completely FREE week long lesson called One Ingredient Fix where she’ll show you the one ingredient that will improve your photography right away. The next sessions begins soon and you can register at: http://www.berylaynyoung.com/oneingredientfix/

One Response to “6 Ways to Use Light In Your Photos”

  1. June 7, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

    Nice photos! However, I have noticed the use of high ISO absolutely unnecessary especially outside in cloudy day. The ISO was 800 with very high shutter speed 1/1600 and f/5.6. Personally, I would increase the DOF using f/8, less noise with ISO 200 and still using shutter speed of 1/200 would be high enough to avoid camera shake blur. The same goes for another outside shot using ISO 1600 with f/4.5 and unnecessary high shutter speed 1/500 (the child is not moving). How is about ISO 400, f/4.5 and shutter speed 1/125? Just my 20 cents.

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