Light is different everywhere in the world. Atmosphere, angle of the sun, weather, seasons, and geography can all impact how light behaves. I didn’t really understand this until I moved to California 13 years ago. The light is so different here than in New York and New England where I had lived all my life. Smog, haze and marine layers cause the light to be diffused to one extent or another most of the time. At first, I missed sharp, dramatic shadows and variations to the light caused by cumulus clouds (a rarely-seen cloud here). Now I’ve learned how to work with the light here and it can be very beautiful.
But it’s not just geography that can make a difference. Light can be different from one house to the next. You may have the same house design as your neighbors across the street, but how the light behaves in your houses will be completely different. Window placement, what direction they face, even trees and other buildings can impact how the light looks within your house. As a photographer, the challenge is getting to know the light in and around your house. Read on for more…
My favorite room in my house is the living room. It’s large, has a stone fireplace, wooden peaked ceiling with beams, a comfy carpet for lounging around on the floor. All good things. But the real reason I love this room is the afternoon light. The room fills with warm light at about 5 o’clock these days and makes it the perfect place for taking soft, backlit pictures, portraits and silhouettes. The trouble is, daytime light in the living room can sometimes look harsh near the windows, and it’s hard to get a good exposure in here before the afternoon sun hits the huge wall of windows.
For about 3 weeks every winter, the sun is at just the right angle in the late afternoon to hit a small, octagon window near the front door. The result is a beam of warm light that hits the couch in the darkened living room. I took this shot (left) during those 3 weeks last year, and I’m so looking forward to this year’s light show. (You can see the little window in the picture above on the right over my husband’s shoulder).
My kitchen only gets nice light for photography very early in the morning, so I’ve learned that the office is the best place in the house for shooting food. Indirectly-lit white window sheers are the perfect backdrop for food, and the light looks beautiful.
Late afternoons are the perfect time for shooting in the front yard, especially if I face west. Low, warm light backlights the world and make everything all pretty.
I’m so rarely in my bedroom during the day, and I generally keep the blinds closed, so I don’t really know its lighting quirks. Maybe I should remedy that and let in the light!
The best way to get to know the light in your house is to take pictures, a lot of pictures. When you move into a new house, you get to know the house’s quirks, like the door that sticks, or how on Earth you’re going to organize the kitchen. Getting to know the light in your house is no different. Little mental notes about the light as you go about your day can come in handy later. It can also help you decorate your house, plan your window treatments and place supplemental lighting.
What’s great about understanding the light in your house is that it takes away a lot of the guesswork about when and where to take a great picture. Want to photograph a new vase you just bought, well, knowing when and where the light is best in the house will help you to take a nice shot. Planning a party? Why not schedule it for the best picture-taking time of day. Want great shots of your kids? Schedule some playtime in the rooms with the best light.