I believe the true secret to stunning photography lies in the light. Beautiful light and shooting locations are all around us. Learn about how I find and choose natural light and learn why my own front yard is becoming my favorite place to shoot.

Beautiful Light Is the Cornerstone to a Beautiful Image

We recently moved to the Metro Detroit area, and I quickly found myself overwhelmed and in a rut. Forget about scouting for new locations, I went months without shooting anything. None the less, I ordered a new lens and when it arrived I wanted to take some test shots to make sure it was working fine.
It was early October, still warm and green in Michigan, so I decided to just head to the front yard and see if my new Canon 135 2.0L lived up to its reputation. It was mid morning, and to my surprise the light was nice:
• Not overhead, which tends to cast harsh shadows
• I did not see any spotty light, which can be pretty distracting
• It was nice and even on my subject and the background
• Plenty of open shade from the trees lining the curb
So I bribed my little man with a play in his Halloween costume and out the front door we went. I set him up so that we were parallel to the house, in order to take advantage to the depth of field the line of tree at the curb and the vast space my neighbors’ front yards provide. Let me say, I was shocked at how the shots turned out. Not only was my lens working as expected, but who would have guessed I was shooting in my front yard?

Both images taken with Canon 6D, 135 2.0L, ISO 800, f/2.2, 1/1000

I Love Even Light

How did I miss this little gem literally right out my front door? As you can imagine, I quickly fell in love with my front yard. I started to observe the light throughout the day. I found that I have stunning light in the morning and evening. My house faces north, so in the afternoon, I can use it as soon as the house begins to cast a shadow large enough for me to work with, usually about 2 hours before sunset. The only down side is I often clone out cars on the street, probably not necessary, but they drive me crazy when left in the shot.

The following were all taken late in the afternoon, 1-2 hours before sunset. The lighting in all the images is open shade (subject in the shade, but blue sky over head), even throughout the image and there are no visible hot spots.

Image 1: Canon 6D, 135 2.0L, ISO 640, f/2.5, 1/640
Image 2: Canon 6D, 135 2.0L, ISO 800, f/3.2, 1/320
Image 3: Canon 6D, 135 2.0L, ISO 640, f/2.5, 1/640

How I Used Not Quite Even Light

The image below was taken during the golden hour, and my son is on the side walk. Here, I used the shadow of a curbside tree rather than the house, thus the light in the background is brighter than the light on him. I usually do not choose to use this sort of lighting, as I find even light to be more dependable, but I figured why not? And it works for this image, probably because was November and about 20-30 minutes before sunset. In post, I also used a Photoshop curves layer to bring down the shadows on the back ground.

Canon 6D, 135 2.0L, ISO 400, f/2.5, 1/1000

Shooting Tips

Shooting Tips:
1. When I have a single subject, I like to shoot wide open or close to it. So when using my 135 2.0L, I like to shoot between f/2.0 and f/2.8. I stop up if there are more people in the photo as more people usually require more focal distance.
2. I like to use the spot metering mode and I usually meter for my subjects skin and “overexpose” by a stop. I put overexpose in quotes because your camera meter is designed to meter 30% grey and skin is brighter than 30% grey, so when you meter from skin and “overexpose” you are actually just compensating for the difference between 30% grey and skin. This technique works well when working with even light.
3. I always choosing a high speed over low ISO. I find when I shoot 1/400 and faster, my images are nice and crisp. As long as I have not underexposed my image, I do not have problems with noise. If for some reason I did underexpose and have noise, I use Damien Symonds method for noise reduction in Lightroom and then get the detail back in Photoshop by sharpening. Currently I use Greater Than Gatsby Actions to sharpen images.

Tips by Dana Zarzycki

I have found the secret to being a photographer is learning how to see the beauty in the everyday and learning how to use light in a meaningful way. It is my hope that by sharing the story behind the light in my images I will help you learn to use light better. Thank you for reading. Cheers!


Posted by Dana Zarzycki

I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan a small city known for keeping its people. However after leaving for college, I have yet to move back, though I love it there and will never rule out the possibility! I currently live in the Metro Detroit area, and I have lived in Australia (for 6 years) and Brazil (for 3 years. ​ I LOVE to travel, especially adventure travelling. The more trails to walk and hills to climb the better. My husband once accused me of running a boot camp vacation. But my love of nature and its beauty runs deep. ​ I am a mom to an amazing little man. He is my muse, and I am forever thankful to him for showing me the beauty in drool and silly toddler expressions. ​ I am a wife married to an amazing man who challenges me to be my best. He has taken me on some amazing adventures, and I truly look forward to seeing where we will go next.

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