How to take lighter, brighter photos

We have a brilliant entry for our journal this week which is all about getting the right white into your photos. One of the most frequently committed photo editing crimes I see on Instagram is people over exposing or brightening their images. Unfortunately this quest for the perfect white background means that other details of the photo become washed out and lost in the process. It's something that I have been guilty of myself in the past and I often find the desire for the perfect lighting situations really limits the times in which I am able to take photos.

Who better to help us all out with a guest blog than Jinny from The Urban Quarters who currently resides in London which has a serious lack of sunshine. She has mastered the art of making the most of natural and artificial light in her images and luckily for us she is sharing all her tips! We are getting a bit more technical this week so if you are ready to take your photography to the next level you won't want to miss this.

Hi lovely people!

My name is Jinny and I’m a lifestyle and interiors blogger at The Urban Quarters. I moved from sunny Sydney to London last year and I have been struggling to get the right lighting conditions for my photos (#340CloudyDaysAYear).  I was trying to boost the brightness in Photoshop but the images ended up looking quite fake and ‘over-photoshopped’. So a year later, I think I have finally found a few helpful tips to help you get lighter, brighter photos.


Natural Light

If there is decent light during the day then I will try to capture the photo when the light is the brightest. The lighting conditions will vary room to room and differ depending on the time of day. Make a mental note on what time the light is the brightest in each room so you know what time of day is best to shoot particular rooms.

If you want to shoot a smaller object or a flatlay then you can set up a little studio by a window. I have a few pieces of thick cardboard (about 2mm thick) which I use to set up a mini studio. One piece of cardboard acts as the floor and the second acts as the the ‘wall’. Have the window light coming in from the side so you get a nice diffused light flowing across your objects.

Note that bright light sometimes isn’t the same as sunny light! Sometimes when it is too sunny then this may cause the highlights to be overexposed and the shadows to be really harsh and dark. If you have this situation then put a diffuser over the window to diffuse the light (a thin bedsheet or a light curtain will also work).

Tip: whites vs greys. If your camera is making a white wall or white object look grey it is because the exposure is not set high enough. Either increase the ISO or slow the shutter speed down to get brighter whites.

Dealing with Shadows

Speaking of shadows, I did think I was ‘allergic’ to shadows at one stage. Thankfully I’ve come to understand you need shadows in your images otherwise the image can look fake. If you want to lighten your shadows you can use a piece of white cardboard or a small diffuser (white or silver). Hold it at 45 degrees to the objects so the light bounces from the window light, onto the cardboard and back onto your image. This will help reduce the length of the shadows and balance the light in the image.

Edit in an Lightroom or Photoshop.

There are a few settings which will help you edit your pictures so they are lighter and brighter. If you are using Lightroom then I like to adjust my exposure and white by pulling the sliders to the right. If you want brighter photos then your histogram should be predominantly towards the right instead of the left (see example below).

In Photoshop you still have a histogram but you have more options to tailor the brightness. You can use the Exposure/ Brightness/ Levels to lighten the whole image or you can use the Curves adjustment to tailor the brightness of specific parts of the image.

Sometimes when you lighten the image this can cause the tones to looked washed out. I usually slightly increase the contrast to bring some of the colour back. Don’t go overboard though and try to make it look realistic!

Tip: White Balance. Sometimes when you shoot a picture your white balance might look a bit yellow/blue (temperature) or green/purple (tint). This could be because the walls, floor, objects are causing the camera to meter a certain colour. You can manually adjust these to get the best


Off camera flash and softboxes

I recently bought a soft box which helps me to take photos even in the dark! My flash goes on a tripod in the softbox which looks like a big umbrella with a light cover over the top. I set up the softbox on one side of my products to portray natural light. The softbox helps to beam a strong diffused light across the image and over-powers the ambient light (i.e. window light or artificial lighting in your room like lamps or down lights).

Sometimes if I’m shooting a small product setup then I will put my piece of cardboard or diffuser on the other side of the image at a 45 degree angle. Similar to the window scenario, the light from the flash will bounce off the cardboard and help reduce shadows.

Here are some examples of three different lighting scenarios which will hopefully show you how wonderful an off camera flash and soft box can be!

Note: You will need wireless transmitter and receiver to fit on your camera and your flash so they will go off when you take a picture on your camera.

I hope this tutorial was helpful! If you want some more in-depth tutorials then feel free to have a look at my Photography Tips on my blog.