The One Technique That Instantly Made My Photos Twice as Good

Most people think you need a high-end camera and the most expensive lenses on the market to get great looking photos. Although those definitely help, there's a much more affordable way to achieve the shots you're looking for: positioning your subjects in the right light.

Let me preface by saying that I'm primarily a natural light photographer. I prefer to shoot outdoors as much as possible. Mostly because, for me, there's nothing like the ambient glow of the sunset in the evening. Besides that though, I'm simply not as comfortable with my technical skills when using flash (I still have MUCH to learn there).

One of the biggest mistakes I used to make when I was starting out was shooting into the light (in my case, the sun), rather than using it to illuminate my subjects.

Notice how the source of light is behind my subject here. This causes the subject to look flat and blend in with the background.

Notice how the source of light is behind my subject here. This causes the subject to look flat and blend in with the background.

Shooting into the light has a few drawbacks. If it's particularly bright outside, your camera will have a hard time focusing on your subject due to the lens flare. If it's not bright outside, you'll have no trouble focusing, but images can turn out flat and dull.

I eventually started experimenting with having my subjects face the sun. The results changed my photos dramatically. Provided that you're not shooting in midday when the sun is harshest, having your subjects face the sun brings the photo to life. Details pop and the colors are more vibrant.

My subject here is facing the sun. No flash was used in this photo, only natural light.

My subject here is facing the sun. No flash was used in this photo, only natural light.

There are a couple of downsides to having your subject face the sun. On bright days, it might be hard for your subjects to look into the camera without squinting or straining their eyes, resulting in unflattering expressions. Positioning your subjects in front of the sun might also mean having a distracting background. Fortunately, you can fix that.

I started using a light reflector a few months ago and it completely changed how I work. Rather than being at the mercy of the light, I could manipulate it however I wanted to without having to move the model in front of an ugly background. By placing the reflector in front of the subject and bouncing the light coming from behind them, you get a natural, nicely-illuminated photo. (The reflector I use was just $17 and can be found here).

The light source was behind the subject in this photo. I had an assistant hold the reflector to illuminate my subject's face.

The light source was behind the subject in this photo. I had an assistant hold the reflector to illuminate my subject's face.

Obviously having an assistant is preferred when using a reflector, but I don't doubt that you could get creative with it and use props to hold it in place.

I hope this post is hopeful for those of you getting started with photography. I'm still learning more about lighting and exposure every time I shoot, but learning to place my subjects accordingly and using a reflector to assist with my lighting has helped tremendously in achieving the shots I'm looking for. If you have any tips to share, please leave a comment below!