January 21, 2013

Beauty Bloggers & Misconceptions About Lighting/Cameras | Part 1

This post has been saved in my drafts for a long time now, mainly because I either forget or I don't want to make the tone of this post negative, snobby or condescending...As I've been writing it, I noticed that it's been getting quite lengthy as I go. Thus, I have decided to break it down into parts.

One thing that I have noticed that has been blogged or tweeted or complained about by beauty bloggers is their lack of a "better camera" or "lack of good lighting".

Ladies, if you understand photography in the slightest, you will come to understand that it may not necessarily be your equipment or situation, but it's actually common misconceptions.

I'm going to start off by saying that I'm NOT a professional photographer nor am claiming to be professional or an expert and apologize in advance if I come off as a snob, however I have been doing photography for almost 10 years now—as a hobby—starting with manual film cameras and darkrooms, so I have a more than basic understanding of photography and how things work when it comes to taking somewhat better photos.

"It's been so cloudy lately, I can't take any pictures!"

The biggest thing that has been bothering me is how many bloggers say this and suddenly feel like they need some sort of high-tech lightbox or just give up all together. People are often misled that sunlight/bright light = the best light. You're wrong! Direct sunlight creates these awful, harsh shadows, often recreated with the terrible built-in flash bulbs that come standard with cameras (I also recommend to NEVER use your flash if you have an SLR! It's GARBAGE, buying a hot-shoe camera flash is well worth the investment)

Diffused lighting is THEE BEST LIGHTING you could ever possibly use. It distributes the lighting evenly over your subject without creating those terrible harsh shadows from direct (sun)light. I do understand that most people take their photos inside and rely on the natural lighting from their windows, but regardless, you can still make it work for you, even on those cloudy days.

( Jessica Frey Photography )

So where can you find diffused lighting in the natural world? WHEN IT'S CLOUDY OUTSIDE! All of my best photos are taken when it's a beautiful cloudy day outside. That's not to say that photos can ONLY be taken with indirect sunlight, it's just an ideal situation. Of course, professional photographers know how to work with what they've got, regardless of the situation to bring out such beautiful photos at any time of day.

( Jessica Frey Photography )

Did you know that professional wedding photographers LOVE it when it's cloudy on someone's special day? They don't have to worry about where to place their subjects because anywhere you go, there's no shadows and no harsh light. Would you rather be facing bright sun and have pictures of your special day with squinty eyes? Nah, I wouldn't either.

( Shooting in Shitty Light )

Now I'm not saying to never buy a lightbox

They are indeed useful, however, don't buy one because you think that those cloudy/overcast days are the devil. They're your best friend. You just need to understand the lighting settings on your camera to adjust accordingly. In fact, by having a lightbox, you are replicating the scenario of a cloudy day, but just in the size of a box. The clouds up in the sky are filtering the light of the sun through them, much like the material or tissue paper/fabric of a lightbox or softbox does. Of course they're different by having backdrops and what not, but that's not what I'm trying to get at. Also keep in mind that the kind of light bulb/source you're using also affects your photos (i.e. incandescent = yellowish light, halogen = white, fluorescent = green, etc), all which can however be cancelled out if you know how to use your camera's White Balance setting.

Generally all the photos I take of whatever I blog on here are taken right on my computer desk, which is also situated in front of my windows (which are nice and big!) so I always use the natural lighting filtering in throughout the day to take my photos. Natural lighting also gives off a more whitish color to your subjects that you virtually wouldn't need to adjust your white balance for (unless you are trying to achieve a certain coloring)

A Brief Overview of Your Camera's Lighting Settings

Whether you have a traditional point and shoot or a DSLR, EVERY camera has settings that allow you to adjust your lighting settings to set-up that perfect photo. Again, this is something you should research before buying your camera, because some cameras have better settings than others. But be advised that a professional SLR camera does not equal professional/better looking photos (especially if you're using Auto settings, you should stick to the point and shoot) As it's not my opinion to deter you from spending your well earned money on whatever you please, you shouldn't buy something you can't handle (This may turn into another blog post).

The main settings that control your camera's settings include:
• Exposure Compensations
• White Balance
• Aperture (f-stop)
• Shutter Speed

I'm sure you've seen some (or all) of these things on your camera's menu and probably have no idea what they are. Not all manuals are exceptional at explaining what they are used for, but with a little research on the web, it's not hard to find out. Please keep in mind that all of the above settings work together and not just by themselves. However that being said, you can exclude some settings.

Without this being too much of a photography lesson, I'll briefly explain about these settings and what they do and what you can do to make it work for you.

ISO, previously known as ASA, is generally more geared towards actual film cameras, however the digital cameras decided to adopt the property. ISO has to deal with the film's sensitivity to light and how well it picks it up. Do you remember back in the day of buying film or disposable cameras, you'd commonly see ISO 400 or ISO 800? Typically disposable cameras were given these standard "optimal" settings for "optimal" scenarios. Generally, people would use disposable cameras outside, at parties, indoor activities, etc. Basically, optimal lighting conditions. ISO 400 is probably the safest ISO to go with.

You may notice that your digital camera has an ISO range of say 200-3200. When would you need to use either? Think of it this way: darker photos need a higher or faster film speed/sensitivity, ergo, go with either ISO 1600 or 3200 if you're shooting in low light settings, i.e. concerts.

( photo taken by me with my Nikon D50 + ISO 1600)

If you're in a brighter situation (direct sunlight), you're better off setting your ISO between 400-200, or if you don't trust yourself, the auto setting for ISO will do. You may also use the low ISO 200 setting for long exposure shots to limit the amount of light going through your lens, eliminating washed out, overexposed shots.

( lalalaokay ISO 200 | juliendu92 ISO 100 )

Pretty much EVERY camera has this particular setting. You may not have known what it was called exactly, but I know you've definitely seen the symbol:

If that doesn't ring a bell, how about this: -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

Am I getting warmer? These exposure compensations allow for your camera to either overexpose or underexpose your image as you're taking it. A perfect, and common example of when you would need this setting is if you ever find yourself taking pictures in the snow, or of snow, or even a whit background.

White backgrounds are highly reflective, especially snow when it's in the sun. Ever notice when you take a photo in the snow, the snow comes out grey, even though the snow is super white? Using exposure compensation, you can adjust your cameras setting to overexpose your image. Overexpose = +1, +2, +3; Underexpose = -1, -2, -3; 0 = neutral/no compensation.

Some beginning owners of SLRs usually don't know that their cameras come with its only light metering system. Ever look into the view finder while pushing the shutter half way down, only to notice the exposure compensation meter move to one side or the other? Its your cameras way of telling you to either overcompensate or under-compensate your exposure. Depending on what mode you're in (SLRs specifically), it may adjust it for you. I like using this setting on my point-and-shoot cameras since they lack in Aperture functions.

( still taken from Snap Factory's Episode 26 on Exposure Compensations )

In this case, the image has been underexposed (notice the metering/bars that go under the 0 where the orange arrow is, also the bottom right corner says 0.3) and it's still too dark, so you would need to overexpose the image in order to get it to the perfect brightness. You would do this by pressing your Exposure Compensation button () and rotate the dial (SLRs) or find it in your menu settings (Point-and-Shoot) and select the right exposure. If your camera has a live preview mode (some SLRs don't) you should be able to see the exposure change right in front of your eyes to your liking.

White Balance is another setting that ALL cameras have no matter what. Again, it's all a matter of finding them. A lot of cameras these days come with preset "scenes" which can also work to your advantage in terms of white balance, while other cameras has the option for you to pick a certain lighting situation (indoor, direct sun, shade, incandescent  etc.) Unfortunately for point and shoot cameras, they are limited to the preset options for white balance though, but there's enough preset settings to let you shoot some optimal photos.

( Dummies: How to Customize White Balance )

My D3100 has a color spectrum (see above) to adjust/customize your white balance to either cancel out odd colors to make them neutral or even give your image a cool coloring to it. Some color theory would be recommended if you want to use this particular setting.

( Epic Life Photography )

So basically White Balance is pretty much what it says it is, it's to adjust the color of your camera to get the most natural, neutral, white coloring so that if you have anything that is white in your photo's subject, it should appear white when the photo is taken. But because subjects are lit with different kinds of lighting, it's not really noticeable to the naked eye how the light source can change the coloring of a taken photo. Here's some quick color theory for you:

incadescent lighting = yellow → cancels out with blue/purple
fluorescent lighting = green → cancels out with red

Think of it as those correction palettes you can get to neutralize your skin tone!

White balance is something optional to think about when it comes to taking photos. I generally like to put my white balance setting to neutral or auto when I take my natural, diffused lighting photos. Although white balance does not affect lighting specifically, it is another aspect of your camera's settings to help take that perfect photo.

Remember, everything should be lit up and set up properly, pre-production, to limit having to adjust lighting setting post-production (a.k.a. Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.)

That was part 1 of my mini series. Up next will be Aperture and Shutter Speed. They're both also very important aspects for using your camera manually and generally for those who own an SLR.

Again, I am basing all my knowledge of my 10 or so years of past experience with photography, whether it be through fellow photography buffs, classes or even online research. Feel free to add anything. I am not a professional, I merely do this as a hobby. Also, don't be afraid to try your cameras settings out! They're there for a reason.

To continue onto part 2, please click here.


  1. I thought this post was very interesting and helpful. I have a simple point and shoot camera, but I'd love to upgrade to a DSLR as I want to become better at photography. There's only so much you can do with a pink digital camera ;D

    1. Glad to hear! I totally understand as I get frustrated even with my point and shoot :x There's so many wonderful consumer friendly DSLRs out there that even have tutorial modes built into their cameras for beginners and plus, I think everyone should learn the art of photography :3

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. BLOGGER IS BEING STUPID. Here's my comment again >_>

    I'm currently 99% sure that I'm getting a DSLR for my birthday (with a little help from my mom ;)). Now I just have to decide which one I'm going to get :D
    Yesterday I actually went to an open house of a local college that also offer a photography study, since I want to start school again this year. I'm leaning more towards their mediadesign study for now, because it combines a lot of the things I want to learn (including photography). Hmm, decisions decisions (:

    1. haha, good old blogger

      That's a great idea! It seems like something you would enjoy and it's definitely relevant and probably easier to get a job with (: Woohoo~ do you have a camera in mind that you're thinking of getting specifically?

    2. For job searching it's definitely easier. Photography is such a niche business, and you have to be really good to make a name for yourself.
      I'm thinking of getting a Canon Eos 1100D, simply because it's an affordable camera to start out with and I've heard (and seen) good things about it. I'm visiting Sander this weekend and he has an 1100D, so I'm going to play around with it a bit and see if I like it ;) Do you have any other tips before I decide on a camera? :D

    3. I know tons of people who have started their own little photography businesses doing different things, so at least you can do that too or even work for a company that does portrait photography.

      The Canon EoS 1110D would probably be perfect for you as it's a beginner camera (although there's nothing wrong with that, both of my DSLRs are classified as "beginner" cameras :P) I definitely recommend trying out cameras in the store first so that you're comfortable with it and understand where everything is at first. If you're going to be posting a majority of your photos online, don't worry about how high the MegaPixels of the camera are as they really mostly pertain for people who print out their photos. Other than that, I guess just make sure you can use other lenses with it? I know Canon is really good with interchangeable lenses. Also maybe battery life if that really concerns you? Otherwise, I think this one will be a good choice :3



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