Written by Amanda Thomas of Amanda Thomas Photography
Amanda Thomas is a fashion, beauty and portrait photographer and has been working for over 20 years. She started life shooting rockstars and actors for magazines, and the approach was always to make them dynamic and approachable. This idea still applies today, and she has an editorial style, fashion-led approach to her work.
Light is a fantastic tool that with a bit of know-how and creative thinking can be used to bring your story to life, whether you are a florist, an artist, a creator showcasing your products or you need a simple, beautiful portrait of yourself. Read on to discover how you can make available light work for you and get some great shots to get you started.
First of all, you will need a light source. To keep things simple and make life easy, let's use natural daylight. So this can be a large window, that lets in loads of light, it's easy to spot because the room is bright but you don’t need to squint.
Where you decide to shoot will have an impact on how you shoot, for example, if are you taking a self-portrait, then it's a good idea to think about where you will sit or stand. You will need to look for a suitable spot where you have good light with the right background and props. A prop could be the chair you sit on, a bunch of flowers or the curtain behind you.
Take your time looking at the light, it will change throughout the day as well as change with the weather. A bright sunny day will give you sharp shadows and shafts of light whereas an overcast, cloudy day the light will be softer and more even, with the shadows being less prominent.
Think about what type of light you want when you are planning your shots, as this is quite an important consideration. Take a walk around your home, office or wherever you're planning to shoot, noting the light on sunny, and overcast days. And the time of day because this will be crucial in your preparation. It's essential to keep an eye on the weather forecast too as it can change unexpectedly!
Other things to consider are you will need a decent background, this can be some cool wallpaper, a crumpled bed sheet, a textured wooden tabletop or a smooth, clean painted wall.
When you are shooting, ask yourself what are the reasons behind taking these shots and what are the messages you want to convey? Is it on brand? Sounds obvious, but if you're telling a story you need to know why you're telling it! This applies whether you are shooting on a digital camera or a quick shot on your phone. Pretty much everything you post, shoot or say will need to be onbrand including how the shot is lit and styled with props.
If you are shooting products, all of the above applies but do pay extra attention to the props you use and how they are styled. A quick note on styling and using props sometimes less is more. An overly crowded shot can be busy, and the product or message can be lost in the noise.
Products can be shot in several ways, from a birdseye-view overhead, straight on at eye level and three-quarters which is halfway between the two. Depending on what you are photographing, you might need to give the light a helping hand with a reflector (a piece of white A4 or A3 card), this will help bounce back into the shadows, giving a more three-dimensional effect. Place the reflector on the dark side of the shot to bounce the light in to control the depth of your shadows and soften them. You do need to have good shadows to give shape and form to your subject.
These are simple ways to get you going and get your foot on the first rung of the ladder. With practice, it will become second nature, and you will notice things in a whole new light (pardon the pun!)
Amanda is a brand collaborator for Profoto the global lighting company. In 2019 they invited her to be part of their associate programme, which involves giving talks on lighting at events including The Photography Show. Amanda has written several articles on light for Photo Plus and Amateur Photographer magazines.