Seeing the Light

I remember attending a workshop 5 years ago.  The photographer hosting the workshop kept talking about “seeing the light”.  The other attendees nodded in agreement like they could all see the light too.  And I was yelling in my head “Liars!”.  I could not see the light.  I thought it was made up.  And I was frustrated.

Fast forward a few months and something clicked.  I can’t attribute it to anything specific, but I started seeing the light.  The way it hit peoples faces.  The back light.  The shadows.  I could see it!

I gave one of my best friends my old DSLR camera for Christmas.  While shooting her son’s 4 month pictures I came across a great example of “seeing the light” and I had to show her since she’s been getting into photographing her own kids.  I set up the shot to take this picture of Declan backlit by the window.

Canon 5D Mark II

F 2.0, 1/250, ISO 640

I then went to shoot him from above.  His left cheek was closest to the window and the right side of his face was shadowed.

*** SOOC (straight out of camera)

F 2.8, 1/125, ISO 640

Just by turning the ottoman that he way laying on so the top of his head was pointed at the window created a nice even light across his face.

*** SOOC

F 2.0, 1/400, ISO 640


Try really looking for the light.  See what happens when your subject faces the sun, when they turn away from the sun.  See what happens when you place them next to a window.  Try spending a day just being totally aware of the light and see what you see.

It’s noticing these subtle changes that can turn your ordinary snapshots into beautiful portraits!


  1. Sue says

    This was SO helpful! Thanks!

  2. Jeanne says

    I love this tip! I am now in my photography learning phase of looking and understanding the light and what I can handle. This is by far the hardest lesson to learn since it is constantly changing and never the same. Well, not never but there are so many variables to consider when you are first learning. Thanks for always inspiring!!!
    Jeanne´s last blog post ..Trees Make the Best Mobiles

  3. Lacey says

    Wonderful advice! Finding the light is definitely a huge ah-ha moment and so many things clicked into place for me when I finally REALLY got it. :)
    Lacey´s last blog post ..This is Love

  4. Lisa E says

    In the first shot did you spot meter?

  5. Laura says

    Great post Drew and always something to keep in mind.. looking through your blog I always think to myself “all of her clients have the most AMAZING light in their houses!”… any other tips or tricks?.. are you using a flash at all when doing these shoots? Thank you as always for sharing your insight!

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