Every once in a while I get an e-mail from someone who’s just stumbled onto this blog. In the case of a recent e-mail, it came from a brand new photographer who asked:

“I am just getting my first camera. What’s the one thing I should try to remember to get the best photos I can possibly get?”

Wow that’s a loaded question. I pondered it carefully. I tried to remember when I first began making photographs and what problems I had. And while there are many areas I could focus on, I’d say the most important is light.

So my answer is this…

If you’re just starting out as photographer, and you want to improve your chances that each photograph will “come out,” always keep the light at your back. That way, your subject will be illuminated and your camera has the best chance of doing it’s job properly.

Keep the light at your back. That’s the one tip I’d give brand new photographers.

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 0 Comments

  1. Great advice Scott. As you get more experience you become a student of light. I find myself reverse engineering lights in movies, tv shows and commercials. Photography is all about light!!

    Reply
  2. Great advice Scott. As you get more experience you become a student of light. I find myself reverse engineering lights in movies, tv shows and commercials. Photography is all about light!!

    Reply
  3. The one recommendation I would give brand new photographers is to really carefully look before you press the button: “Is this a nice picture or can I improve it”. After 25 years of photography I still ask myself “why didn’t I see THAT before i took the picture?”. That’s what separated the pros from the rest of us.

    Reply
  4. The one recommendation I would give brand new photographers is to really carefully look before you press the button: “Is this a nice picture or can I improve it”. After 25 years of photography I still ask myself “why didn’t I see THAT before i took the picture?”. That’s what separated the pros from the rest of us.

    Reply
  5. Yep, I have “Background, Background, Background” still ringing in my head but yes, light is what it’s all about.

    James

    Reply
  6. This is a hard one… to name ONE thing. I want to add composition too…but now that’s two things.

    Reply
  7. This is a hard one… to name ONE thing. I want to add composition too…but now that’s two things.

    Reply
  8. I am a beginner myself, and the one tip that is really helping me when photographing people is: get as close as you can. Then a bit closer.

    People really like the results.

    Reply
  9. I am a beginner myself, and the one tip that is really helping me when photographing people is: get as close as you can. Then a bit closer.

    People really like the results.

    Reply
  10. The quality of the light is the key.

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  11. The quality of the light is the key.

    Reply
  12. Scott, you missed the obvious tip, listen to the twip podcast for more tips. It’s like asking a genie for more wishes.

    Reply
  13. Scott, you missed the obvious tip, listen to the twip podcast for more tips. It’s like asking a genie for more wishes.

    Reply
  14. One thing leads to another.

    Reply
  15. One thing leads to another.

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  16. You must be assuming the new photographer is a nature photographer. Otherwise everyone in your photo will be squinting – not a good thing. :)

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  17. @Ken no I am not assuming anything like that. This is good advice for any photographer. This is the same advice Kodak prints on every film box. I’ve made 1000s of portraits without anyone squinting. Perhaps you should practice your posing technique?

    Reply
  18. @Ken no I am not assuming anything like that. This is good advice for any photographer. This is the same advice Kodak prints on every film box. I’ve made 1000s of portraits without anyone squinting. Perhaps you should practice your posing technique?

    Reply
  19. Scott, I do believe you’ve found a worthy successor to “we’re gonna put the lens cap right back on.”

    “So long everybody, remember to keep the light at your back, and we’ll see ya next week!”

    Reply
  20. Scott, I do believe you’ve found a worthy successor to “we’re gonna put the lens cap right back on.”

    “So long everybody, remember to keep the light at your back, and we’ll see ya next week!”

    Reply
  21. My one thing would be to “bring your camera”. No surer way to ruin a photograph than to not take it.

    Reply
  22. Sure I think about light, but I am now into cinematography style, and I look for the opposite. the Main source of light should work as a backlight. well Im sure its about style and it also took me 10 years on photography to master it. but yes as a newbie.. light on your back will give you great rsults

    Reply
  23. Sure I think about light, but I am now into cinematography style, and I look for the opposite. the Main source of light should work as a backlight. well Im sure its about style and it also took me 10 years on photography to master it. but yes as a newbie.. light on your back will give you great rsults

    Reply
  24. I just had an email the other day where someone was confused between this and back-lighting (lighting at your back)…makes me appreciate how sometimes the semantics of the trade can be confusing or misleading…

    Reply
  25. I just had an email the other day where someone was confused between this and back-lighting (lighting at your back)…makes me appreciate how sometimes the semantics of the trade can be confusing or misleading…

    Reply
  26. Scott, after reading Kens post and then your response, it seems like if possible in the future you could talk about how to position your subject in order to not have them squinting.

    Reply
  27. I think the most important thing, much more than light, is composition.

    You eed to develop your eye much more than anything else. Any other thing is technique and can be learn.

    Reply
  28. @Luis if you have great composition but no light, what good is it? Light is not only the most important thing in photography – it’s the only thing. Oh yeah, I’m quoting Ansel Adams here.

    Reply
  29. @Luis if you have great composition but no light, what good is it? Light is not only the most important thing in photography – it’s the only thing. Oh yeah, I’m quoting Ansel Adams here.

    Reply
  30. I’d totally have to agree with Scott. (And Ansel!). I actually remember my aunt telling me this rule when I was 5 or 6. Strangely, its one of those rules I remember getting drilled into my skull but I had forgotten until recently. (Also strange I recently unearthed my mom’s old Olympus Trip 35 which I used to put that rule into practice)

    Composition and the “eye” have to be developed which can only be done through practice. Anyone can figure out where the main light source is and get it behind you. Simple and effective. If a five year old kid can learn that lesson any one can.

    Reply
  31. I’d totally have to agree with Scott. (And Ansel!). I actually remember my aunt telling me this rule when I was 5 or 6. Strangely, its one of those rules I remember getting drilled into my skull but I had forgotten until recently. (Also strange I recently unearthed my mom’s old Olympus Trip 35 which I used to put that rule into practice)

    Composition and the “eye” have to be developed which can only be done through practice. Anyone can figure out where the main light source is and get it behind you. Simple and effective. If a five year old kid can learn that lesson any one can.

    Reply
  32. Mmmm. You keep me thinking. That’s a very good question that deserves a good answer. I think you’re exactly right. It’s make or break for a photo. But sometimes, you know we are into digital nowadays. Some lighting problem in your photo can be manipulated in Photoshop. What you guys think.

    Reply
  33. While I agree that mastery of light is the most important skill a photographer can possess, I also think it is the most difficult skill to master. When I critique my own output, my failure to completely master light is at the core of most of my disappointments. Composition, gear mastery, etc. seem to be easier to attain with practice and study. Lighting, however, requires a good “eye” and I think necessatates years of practice, studying other photographer’s output and listening to the masters. Thanks, Scott, for mentoring all of us.

    Reply
  34. While I agree that mastery of light is the most important skill a photographer can possess, I also think it is the most difficult skill to master. When I critique my own output, my failure to completely master light is at the core of most of my disappointments. Composition, gear mastery, etc. seem to be easier to attain with practice and study. Lighting, however, requires a good “eye” and I think necessatates years of practice, studying other photographer’s output and listening to the masters. Thanks, Scott, for mentoring all of us.

    Reply

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