You have adorable kids, and you want to preserve those fleeting moments for all time with your digital camera. But all too often, you snap a few shots of your son's crooked smile or your daughter's mischievous glance and call it a day, only to download the pics to your computer later and be less than thrilled with the results. Instead of lasting and vivid portraits, all too often we get blurry, dark images, or when using the flash, we get ugly, harsh shadows and blown out details. Stop ending with these disappointing outcomes and start loving your portrait shots. How? By using the right light for every picture and saying no to your on-camera flash!
The key to great portraiture is great light. This sounds obvious, but it also sounds a bit confusing, right? What exactly counts as great light and how does one find it? Great light is everywhere, and surprisingly, can be found at pretty much every time of day (when the sun is up, of course!). You just need to learn how to use light - even harsh midday sun - to your favour.
I find that my best portrait shots are the ones I've taken indoors near a window in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is casting warm, soft tones and light is diffused. But even at other times of the day, great light can be found all around you. For example, placing your subject indoors, next to a large window, can allow you to use natural brightness in your favour. The light will feel soft and give the eyes of your subject a fantastic glow, because light is bouncing off the concrete outside and then onto your subject, instead of directly hitting your subject. If the subject was outside at the exact same time, you would have gotten some harsh shadows and most likely squinty eyes! The bottom line is, natural light cascading in from a large window gives you great catch-light in the eyes and some interesting shadows on the face of your subject.
For shots taken later in the day when light levels are lower, try diffusing the available light through a sheer curtain. Then, bump up the ISO settings on your camera and shoot away! See what kind of warm light and interesting shadows the setting sun can give your shots.
Another idea is to create your own do-it-yourself studio to utilize natural light. Use any sort of solid colour, smooth texture material as a backdrop for your subject. A crude example could be a large black winter coat. Let natural light shine on your subject and the backdrop while you take your shots.
Using natural light is really such an easy way to bump up the caliber of your amateur portrait shots. This works for all ages of subjects, of course. When photographing kids, however, keep the ISO setting just a little higher than you might normally since they tend to move around a lot and blur your photos. Or, invest in a faster lens that allows in more light, such as a 50 mm. And remember, just because you're indoors doesn't mean that you need to use your on-camera flash. It just means that sometimes you need to get a bit more creative, in order to figure out how to use all that great natural light you have available.