How to create impactful photos with mediocre light

  • How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane

How to create impactful photos with mediocre light

Sometimes you stumble upon an image on Facebook or on your favorite blog, and the fabulous light in this image stops you in your tracks.

A gorgeous golden hour shot, a stunning silhouette, or maybe a low light image with fantastic depth… And you can’t help but think, “Oh how I wish all my images would look like this!!”.

How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane

And here comes the dreadful self-doubt, again. Because let’s face it, not all our images look like that. More often than not, we are taking pictures in less-than-stellar lighting situations. Does it mean that we should trash 90% of our images? Not necessarily.

Sometimes the light is just plain wrong, and there is nothing you can do except work with artificial light, which might not be your thing. So yes, there are lighting situations in which it’s better to simply not take pictures (and maybe enjoy the moment instead!).

But other times, the light is just OK. Nothing to rave about, but you know that you will have a well-exposed image, without any major flaws, except that you will never get those “WOW, look at the light!!!” comments on Facebook. In these cases, I do think you should take the picture anyway, and I even believe that you can still create a memorable image in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should be happy with less-than-stellar light. Learning to find the light is a constant quest for us photographers, and there is a reason for that; we create photographs with light, it’s our raw material. Therefore, fabulous light is the best first step to a fabulous image. However, there are many other things that can lead to an impactful photo, even if there is really nothing remarkable with the light you are shooting with.

Here are the ones I most often use in my own work as a children and family photographer:

  • Compelling composition
  • Expression/emotion
  • Colors (or tonal range in a black and white image)
  • Movement
How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane

Let’s consider a toddler session, for example. It’s no secret that I love photographing toddlers, but there is one thing very annoying about them: shooting at golden hour is not an option most of the time, because it will be too late and they will be awfully cranky. Believe me, a cranky toddler is NOT what you want. So I very often schedule those sessions at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. which are far from ideal hours, especially in the summer. In that case, to avoid dealing with strong overhead lighting or blown environment due to the overwhelming sun, I will often shoot in the shade. There is nothing wrong with shooting in the shade, except that the light can be somewhat flat, and often boring. Which means that I need to rely on other elements than the light to create the “wow” factor in my images.

My rule of thumb is the following….

If I can’t get interesting light, I need to combine at least two of the other factors (composition, emotion, colors, movement) to make sure that my image will be impactful.

Let’s see a few examples…

How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane
movement and expression
How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane
movement and composition
How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane
color and movement
How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane
composition and expression
How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane
emotion/expression and colors
How to create impactful photos with boring light by Lisa Tichane
composition and color

In other words, if you cannot “wow” the viewer with striking light, you need to compensate by creating visual interest in a different way.

Last but not least… As much as you can, don’t give up on catchlights, the beautiful reflection of light in the eye. They are such a powerful way to make a portrait come to life. Combining a rather boring light with no catchlights will probably lead to a very dull portrait. If you are shooting outside in the shade, a very easy way to get catchlights is to shoot your subject from above, making him/her look up towards the sky!

About the Author:

Lisa Tichané is a lifestyle photographer specialized in kids, babies and family photography. Based in France she is also traveling internationally for commissioned advertising projects. Her style is fun, energetic and playful with a touch of mischief. She thrives to capture real life, true joy and wild carefree moments. She is a published author and the instructor of the Capturing Joy online workshop. Visit Lisa Tichané online.
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11 Comments

  1. Elodie Dec 04 2014 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Very interesting tutorial Lisa : Thanks !!!

  2. Lacey Meyers Dec 04 2014 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    This is wonderful, Lisa! Regardless of the light you’re shooting in, your images are ALWAYS impactful and it is great to read how you accomplish that! 🙂

  3. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Dec 04 2014 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your sweet comments, ladies! <3

  4. Amber Dec 04 2014 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    This is what I struggle with most! Well, this and white balance. Please do a breakout session Lisa. I would love to learn more from you. 🙂

  5. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Dec 05 2014 at 2:55 am - Reply

    Awww thank you Amber! I actually have done a breakout in the past already, where I talk about shooting in less-than-stellar light too (among many other things), because it’s all about shooting Toddlers 🙂 You can learn more about it here: http://store.clickinmoms.com/photographing-toddlers-a-recipe-for-success-lisa-tichane/

  6. KatieW Dec 05 2014 at 7:11 am - Reply

    These are such fantastic tips, Lisa!!!

  7. taujau Dec 09 2014 at 12:27 am - Reply

    This is so perfect, Lisa! I had never considered any of this — I’m having a total “ah-ha!” moment! Thank you!

  8. Rain Klepper Dec 18 2014 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    Fantastic tutorial, Lisa! Thank you for posting this part of Capturing Joy…your class is life-changing, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to take it on CM.

  9. Lisa Turney Jan 12 2015 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the great tips! I enjoyed this and I always enjoy your images filled with so much color and fun!

  10. Tristan B. Feb 19 2015 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    I loved this! It gives me hope when shooting my own toddler in less than ideal light. Thank you!

  11. Sarah May 27 2015 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Lisa, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this wonderful article. I’ve been wondering about this a lot recently. Wondering, ‘what. So if the light isn’t magical, it’s impossible to take a good photo?’ And you’ve answered my inner questions so perfectly. I’m so grateful! Thank tou <3

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