There’s a secret to taking photos that I didn’t learn until way too far in to my photography journey: there is nothing more important than finding good light.
Now that I’ve given it away, you’re probably thinking, okay, but…
What is good light?
I know this might be annoying, but the definition/explanation is actually pretty objective. My definition of good light is not the catch-all for every single photographer or situation. That being said, I think there is a general consensus among most photographers that good light = light that is flattering to the subject. Good light doesn’t highlight imperfections like wrinkles and blemishes (unless that is intentionally the goal). Good light is even and consistent across the the individual, complimentary to their complexion, lights up the eyes, and doesn’t cast shadows or unnatural color casts. To me personally, good light is shade with a clean natural reflector nearby OR diffused backlight at golden hour. See examples of those two settings below!
Good light on the OU campus
Over the past 8 years, I’ve learned that light varies every single day, specifically on OU’s campus. Today’s light at 6PM in front of Jacobson Hall is going to be different than tomorrow’s light at 6PM in front of Jacobson Hall. You might think that is a little crazy, and honestly it may not vary that much, but a little change in cloud cover or timing is enough variation for me to see inconsistencies.
Light also varies in every season. Naturally, fall photos on campus are going to look different than spring photos on campus, not just because of the landscaping, but because of the location and angle of the sunset and the various places light hits based on the time of year. It changes even from spring to summer, too! There are places at OU I can use for a shoot in July that I couldn’t use just two months earlier in May. If you’re curious, I have a list of my favorite OU campus locations to use on shoots that consistently have good light! I’m always going to prioritize a location that has flattering light over a location because of it’s background. If it has both, it’s a winner of course, but this is a general rule I shoot by!
Just like on campus, urban/city locations can be a challenge because the variations in light change so frequently. In the city, we’re also often working with taller buildings that block the sky and sun, which means that starting a shoot earlier in the evening is typically better for these settings. There are also more colors, distractions, and reflectors that can impact color casts and skin tones. If I have someone standing in front of (or near) a red brick building, the likelihood that a red/orange tone will be reflected onto their skin is extremely high. Since I have a natural and true-to-life edit, this would not be a good location or an easy fix in post! Instead, I choose a lot of locations with colorful walls that have open space in front of them, open areas with direct access to the sky & to clean concrete reflectors, and light-colored buildings (like the Myriad Gardens Crystal Bridge – it’s one of my favorites!)
I love rural and country locations because of the creativity and freedom you can take advantage of with somewhat of a blank canvas. I’m also a country girl at heart, so I feel most at home when I’m in an open field in the middle of Oklahoma. A big struggle I have to combat with rural and country locations is dullness of light. I mentioned above that natural reflectors are one of my favorite light sources. A natural reflector is something like a white building, driveway, sidewalk, or even white sand! When the sun hits these elements on the ground, they bounce clean light back up onto the subject’s face. Obviously if we’re in an open field, all that is around us is probably grass, meaning natural reflectors are harder to find and I’m reliant more on shooting in areas that have a lot of open access to the sky! Another important element of shooting in rural locations is finding tall grass – shooting in an uncut field is better than shooting in short grass. A location like a backyard or golf course (where everything has been mowed) often causes a green/yellow colorcast back onto the faces I’m photographing!