By Guest Blogger Felicia Perretti

Lighting a subject to be photographed can make the difference between a so-so shot and one that packs a punch. Shifting light sources, accommodating different shadows and textures and mastering your camera's settings can improve results dramatically.

The following explanations should ensure that your photography skills are as bright as your subjects.


The "f" in the photography term F/stop is most likely related to the Latin word "fenestra," which means window. The F/stop setting on your camera relates to its aperture - think of it as your eye's iris. Just like a human iris, apertures open and close, letting more or less light through the lens.

A "stop" in photography refers to either twice or half the amount of light, so consider:

  • F/2.8 is a common setting on most lenses and lets in a lot of light.
  • F/4 lets in exactly half the amount of light as F/2.8.

When the aperture is wide open, much light comes into the camera, giving you the ability to shoot fast, but it also decreases the depth of field (focus). If you have no need for speed and want sharper focus, close down the aperture.

F/2.8 and F/4 have depths of field that are relatively "shallow," but they allow for shooting subjects on the move or that are indoors. To bump up the focus (or shoot more stationary subjects), try F/11 or F/16.

One last thing to remember: the higher the F/stop number, the smaller the aperture. Weird, huh?

By the Light of the Silvery Moon... Or Not


National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Historical Park by Scott Mabry

Shooting outside is all about timing and keeping track of your light source. During the day, watch the sun and its position. When I shoot a building, I want the sun to hit it, producing a bright image that reveals all the detail. Also, shooting on a bright day ensures the pleasing background of a blue sky.

Nighttime shooting can be a little bit trickier.

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Glencairn Museum Courtesy of Bryn Athyn Historic District

Most buildings do not photograph well against totally black skies, especially if there are street lamps or bright lights in the scene, which can create unattractive blobs of light. For most buildings, shooting at dusk (or dawn if you're an early bird) gives the best results.

For dark buildings, shoot right after the sun sets. For brighter-colored buildings, wait until near dark for great images.

Regardless of the variety of light sources, shooting at night always works best with a tripod.

If your subject isn't the Empire State Building but, rather, a little league umpire, other recommendations come into play. Shooting people outside requires a little more finesse.

People tend to photograph better in soft sunlight, particularly on a cloudy or partly cloudy day. This will give you great skin tones and make your subjects look brighter and softer.

If you're in an area of screaming sunshine, and still want to capture the family, look for a patch of shade to diffuse the glare. Try the shade of a building or tree. Working with a flash, you can back-light your subjects using the sun behind them, with the flash lighting the faces. This produces a glowing effect around the hair and body. For an interesting variation, position subjects so that the sun hits them at an angle.

Keep in mind, though, that your average point-and-shoot automatically disengages its flash while photographing during the day. You can and should manually override that setting and use the flash anyway.

Working with different light sources - natural or artificial - is a certain way to not only get good results but also bring variety to your pictures. What a bright idea!

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Bryn Athyn Cathedral Courtesy of Bryn Athyn Historic District

For a truly unique opportunity to test out your camera skills in dim light, try the Bryn Athyn Historic District's Landmark in Lights event tonight, June 25, from 8 to 11 p.m. You'll get a chance to tour Glencairn Museum, Cairnwood Estate, and the Bryn Athyn Cathedral for free, and these three architecturally distinct buildings will be lit from within and without, priming them for some stunning sunset and evening photography. The Glencairn Museum's tower is also open (for a small fee), enabling shots of sparkly Center City Philadelphia on the horizon. You may even catch the waning Super Moon in your shots.


Perretti is co-owner of J&F Studio, Roslyn, PA