Common Lighting Mistakes and How to Fix Them

March 19, 2012

in Lighting, Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials

I Heart Faces Lighting Mistakes and Fixes Tutorial

Pin It


This is the second in a 4-part series of Common Photography Mistakes tutorials that Jean Smith Photography put together for I Heart Faces. Be sure to read the other three parts of her series here:


It’s all about LIGHTING this week! Because I shoot and love both natural and artificial light, I have included information on both. Everyone has a different style and preferences on how they use light. No matter how you shoot, remember that light always has been and always will be the most important part of photography. The following are a few tips to help you avoid some common lighting mistakes.

Natural Light Mistake #1 – Looking for location first.

The Fix – Always look for light first, THEN worry about location. The coolest location in the world is nothing if you don’t have great light on your subject. If you really love the location, but lack available light, you need to create it yourself with artificial light.

Natural Light Mistake #2 – Subject has dark or “dead” eyes.

The Fix – The eyes are typically the most important part of an image (unless you have a specific or artistic reason for wanting them dark) and they should be filled with light. If your subject’s eyes are dark and without light, you can easily remedy this by turning your subject toward the light source (when in shade), use a white reflector (or other light surface) to bounce light into your subject’s eyes, or get above your subject and shoot down on them to allow the gorgeous light of the sky to fall in their eyes.

I Heart Faces Lighting Mistakes and Fixes Tutorial

Natural Light Mistake #3 – Shooting your subject in dappled sun.

The Fix – What the heck is dappled light? This is the speckled light coming through trees or windows that falls on your subject’s face and is a web of shadows and light. There is definitely a time and place for shooting your subject’s face with speckled light (subject looking away, high fashion, artistic), but as a general rule for portraits, move your subject or turn their back toward the sun.

I Heart Faces Lighting Mistakes and Fixes Tutorial

Natural Light Mistake #4 – Avoiding midday sun.

The Fix – We can all admit it. We educate our subjects/clients to schedule the shoot in the early morning or late evening to get that “safe” light. We see bright sun and run for open shade to find a nice, flat light. Challenge yourself and achieve a beautiful variety in your images by shooting your subjects in full sun. Try playing with the light and see how turning your subject at different angles to the sun completely changes the look of your photo.

I Heart Faces Lighting Mistakes and Fixes Tutorial

Natural Light Mistake #5 – Facing your subject toward midday sun.

The Fix – I know, I know, I JUST told you to get out of your comfort zone and place your subject out in the sun. I definitely suggest trying different ways of letting the sun fall on your subject, but I HIGHLY suggest not facing your subject toward the sun for a look-at-me-and-1-2-3-smile shot!. The subject will have a hard time opening their eyes and unless you are going for high fashion or drama, the light is not flattering. Instead, turn your subject’s back to the sun and you may have to use a reflector or reflective surface to bounce some light onto your subject’s face.

I Heart Faces Lighting Mistakes and Fixes Tutorial

Artificial Light Mistake #1 – Light reflections in mirrors, windows, or other reflective surfaces.

The Fix – If you have ever used flash or a continuous light source on location, you have probably experienced the horrid flash reflection in the window/mirror/reflective surface behind your subjects. There are often a few easy fixes. Reframe your shot so that the reflection is outside the frame, change your shooting angle to the subject, or change the placement of your light.

I Heart Faces Lighting Mistakes and Fixes Tutorial

Artificial Light Mistake #2 – Too much shadow on one side of the face.

The Fix – This only applies if your light is off of your camera AND you are trying to avoid a dramatically lit photo with a lot of light and shadows. If your light is off to one side pointing toward your subject, you can place a reflector on the opposite side (shadow side of the face) to bounce light back into your subject’s face to fill in some of the shadows.

Artificial Light Mistake #3 – Burning out your flash.

The Fix – At full power, your flash will quickly “burn out” (overheat and stop firing) when rapidly taking multiple shots. Remedy this by increasing your ISO (ie 800-1600) and setting your flash to a lower power setting if using your flash in manual mode. If using TTL, your flash will automatically compensate and lower the flash output.

I Heart Faces Lighting Mistakes and Fixes Tutorial

I believe David Young said it best when he said “It is the photographing of ordinary things, in extraordinary light, which results in extraordinary photographs.”


Jean Smith Jean Smith is a portrait, wedding, and commercial photographer in New Hudson, Michigan. She has a super rad husband (also a photographer) and four awesome little boys who keep life fun and VERY busy! To see more of her photography, visit her website, blog or follow her on Facebook.




I Heart Faces - Social Media ABC Photo Challenge

Submit your Letter “N” photo this week! Use Hashtag #IHFphoto-N or tag us on Facebook. Get details here.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth April 3, 2014

These are fantastic tips!


Jamar November 2, 2012

Dude i do need to improve my photo lighting skill. Right now I sort of suck.


Dawn April 27, 2012

Fixing Common Lighting Mistakes in Photography


Patrizia Corriero March 25, 2012

Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them {Part 2 – Light}


Troy Christopher March 22, 2012

Thanks for the tips! These are a lot of the same things that I hear in class. I’m studying film at Santa Fe University and I’m in my first year. I’ve been having some trouble with photo composition and getting them to turn out the way I’d like. I’m going to try your advice and see how it works. Thanks!


Allison Christians March 20, 2012

Thanks so much for the great reminders!


Lolli Franklin March 19, 2012

Common Photography Lighting Mistakes and Fixes | I Heart Faces


Gina March 19, 2012

Very educational…Thanks!


Jessica March 19, 2012

Jean, you rocked it again 😉


Marla March 19, 2012

Oh, I love me some Jean Smith! Great information. Thanks for the tips & reminders!


Leave a Comment

{ 6 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: