Compare these two photos:
My reaction to the second one is “Ugh.” I bet you agree! I even edited it briefly to show you that it’s not really worth editing.
Study the photos above before reading the rest of this post. Can you identify which two simple changes I made after shooting the “ugh” version? Seriously. Analyze the differences in the two photos before going on.
Are you ready to read on now? The next photo you see is the unedited version of the Ugh photo. It’s followed by an analysis of some of its problems.
I took this photo on my daughter’s birthday as we were decorating cupcakes for her party. We were having so much fun together and she gave me one of those melt-your-heart-thank-you-mommy smiles. That’s often a cue for me to pick up my camera. I grabbed the camera and took a photo only thinking about that unbearable preciousness, not the lighting.
That split second lack of thought led to these problems:
- A big window was behind her. The white balance in this part of the image was natural light.
- An awful tungsten light was to her right. It created a yucky yellow white balance. It just so happens that the walls in my kitchen are a neutral gray. But look at the difference in the appearance of color near #1 and #2 in the image above.
- The tungsten light created really harsh lighting on the right side of her face with a hot spot that couldn’t easily be fixed. The other side of her face was very underexposed.
- Note how the underexposure emphasizes the flaws of the photo. The blue color cast of her shirt onto her chin is very apparent here, as are the dark circles under her eyes. The chapped areas on her lips really stand out as well.
- This photo didn’t capture even a hint of catchlights in her eyes.
After seeing this image on the back of my camera, photographer-mom took over from melted-heart mom and I made these two easy changes:
- I turned off the terrible tungsten.
- I turned my daughter to face the window.
Below is the unedited version of the first photo in this post. Let’s perform the same analysis on it as we did for the Ugh photo.
- She is directly facing the window, which gives even lighting to her face and no harsh shadows or hotspots.
- White balance is even as well, since there is only one light source in the image. I’m no longer fighting against mixed lighting color.
- The color cast under her chin looks like a natural shadow. Her undereye shadows are much less noticeable. And the chapped lips don’t look so bad. And yes, I do realize that I’m zoomed out further in this image and that the chapped lips wouldn’t be as apparent. However, soft lighting makes skin flaws less noticeable. Try it! I promise it’s true!
- She now has lovely catch lights in those brown eyes.
Now, this version of the photo is something to work with! Editing it was a breeze.
You can see my settings below. Note that I didn’t even need to adjust White Balance.
Being a photographer mom is like being a nurse or a doctor. When a medical professional has a sick child, they have to remind themselves to use their medical knowledge before they worry too much. When we take photos of our kids, that initial impulse to snap a shot is driven purely by love. Remind yourself to take a deep breath and let your knowledge guide the photo – you will drastically improve your photography.