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Photographing Your Family, Part 3: Lighting

Published on: December 30, 2013

Editor's note: This is the third in our series on photographing your family by photographer Kim Barlow.

Lighting 1

Great light is key to a great photograph.

Lighting 2

My favorite light source is the sun. You can use the sun in many ways. Window light is a great source of light. Light can create a three dimensional look on a two dimensional surface. The shadows give depth to a subject.

Lighting 3

This portrait was taken with the light in front of her. It still works in this photo but creates a flat look. This flat look can minimize wrinkles. Generally, you want the light coming in from the side because the shadows make the two dimensional photo look a bit more three dimensional.

Lighting 4

This face is lit from the side and the shadows from the nose, cheeks and eyes give her more shape. The window I’m using here is very large. The larger the light source the softer the light.

Lighting 6

This image was taken in a very dark room with a very small window. That concentrated light looks lovely and has a much different look than a large light source.

Lighting 7

An excellent light source is again, the sun. I love to open my garage and use that light as a studio. This is how this image came about. I often use the same light source for my professional shoots. The lovely thing about it is almost everyone has a garage so almost everyone can take this kind of picture.


Here the subject is outside. We are using the shade of the tree. It can be hard to find the right shadows in the middle of the day, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your shoot.  Make sure when you do this that there aren't splotches of sun coming through making the light on their face uneven.

Lighting 9

We used the shade on the porch of the subjects house. I love shade on a sunny day. When I shoot on an overcast day the colors are not as vibrant and the portrait comes out more moody. Both are lovely however my preference would be the sunny day.


So what happens when light conditions are not perfect? For example, when looking at other people’s pictures I often see perfectly exposed backgrounds but the subjects are lost. In this image the subject is standing on the beach with a beautiful sunset behind her but you can’t see the girl.


This is where your flash comes in. Try this next time you have a light source behind you and you still would like to see the subject. Turn on the flash on your camera. Next, point the camera at the sky and hold the button halfway down. Then move the camera onto your subject and press the button in completely. This works particularly well with point and shoot cameras. If you have a fancier camera then expose for the sky and flash on your subject.


Here is another example of the light behind the subject being too strong for the subject to show up.


I had to move closer to the girl and exposed for the sky and turned on my flash. It’s a lot of fun.


Often you’ll get harsh shadows in the sunlight. Flash comes to the rescue again. Simply force it on.


You can see how with the flash on, the shadows disappear.


Sometimes it is lovely to have the subject back-lit for a silhouette. It’s best if you do it on purpose.

Lighting 5

This subject is back-lit and we can see her because I turned on the flash. I love this look.

See also:

Photographing Your Family, Part 1: Composition

Photographing Your Family, Part 2: Composition

11 tips on taking iPhone photos

Kim BarlowAbout the author: Kim is one of those lucky women who was able to be a stay-at-home mom for most of her motherhood career. She loved almost every minute of raising kids. She has three of them. The 9 year old is still at home being raised. She got into Photography when she was 8 years old but really didn't do anything with it until she had kids of her own. She loves taking pictures and would love to adopt every family she takes pictures of. She loves to draw and paint and spend time with her husband of 22 years. She also loves walking the dog no matter what the weather. Her perfect day is a toss-up between a beautiful day for picture taking or taking the time to read a good library book. See more of Kim Barlow's photography at

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