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Quantity of Light is not the same as Quality of Light: Part 1

Originally shared on The Photo Life, and I thought it was worth sharing again…

I’m here to dispel a myth. Quantity of light isn’t the same as quality of light.

There’s a common misconception that the more light you have, the better your photo will be. But an accomplished photographer knows the difference between ‘quantity of light’ and ‘quality of light’.

Here’s a great example of this myth in action: a client calls you to schedule a portrait session. Immediately, they think (out loud), “Let’s do our portrait session at NOON because that’s when there’s a lot of light!”

Of course, this is actually one of the worst times of day for portraits, because the direct overhead light is very harsh. Early morning and late afternoon (the ‘golden hours’) are much better, because the light is more complimentary and doesn’t cast harsh shadows on the subject’s face. But how can you overcome harsh light in the middle of the day?

Simple Fix – Use a Reflector

Well, the easiest and cheapest way to handle it is with a reflector. Here are two recent photos I took around noon. Both images are shot with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in aperture priority mode at ISO 200. The image on the left (with no reflector) was shot at a shutter speed of 1/600 of a second. The image on the right (with the reflector bouncing the overhead light back up onto the subject’s face) is at 1/1000 of a second shutter speed.


See? All it takes is a simple reflector to change the quality of the light. Something so simple can change the way you approach your shoots in sunlight!

Simple Solution – Find a Spot Where the Light is Even

Another simple solution is to move your subject into the shade where the light is even. However, this can leave you with a darker image. Bring your subject to the edge of the shade and use your reflector again to bounce the light onto your subject. The side by side images (shown below) reveal before and after a reflector is added – the settings are exactly the same for each image. The images are unedited, directly out of the camera.

Sure, you can go into Lightroom or Photoshop after the shoot and adjust the images – brighten them up, make them warmer. But you don’t have to! You can master the craft of lighting and ensure that every shoot goes smoother in the future. And a reflector is only one way to change the quality of light.

In fact, check out this tutorial I created for you:

There are many more! In the next installment in this lighting series, I’ll discuss when and why to use a flash instead of opening your aperture as wide as it will go and cranking your ISO up.

Tell Me Your Experience

Do you use reflectors or diffusers? Why or why not? Tell me in the comment section!

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The Nerdy Photographer
The Nerdy Photographer

With more than a quarter century as a professional photographer, The Nerdy Photographer's goal is to spread knowledge and laughter throughout the photo industry. Please follow along on social media and subscribe to the podcast.

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