If you’ve been following us on social media or are one of our subscribers, you may be aware we have just completed a run of a wonderful, super energising online Autumn Photography Bootcamp. We gathered a group of beginner and advanced photographers and took them through 5 focused days of learning the ingredients which can help them capture autumn with their families beautifully – all online, with a buzzying, friendly FB group to help support them.

I’m sorry to say, you’re too late for the bootcamp, but you can still benefit from the advice and lessons in this 5 part blog mini series. And if you don’t want to miss our next free bootcamp – the Photographing Christmas bootcamp – enter your details below.

It’s Lesson 1 and we are starting with light. But to warn you – this will be the longest of all the lessons. It’s also the most important. It WILL be the difference between getting great images and some meh ones.

Basics of Light

Let’s start with the basics. Up to now, if you ever considered light, you probably thought about it as something that there may be too much or too little of. But this week, we want you to push further and consider two other light’s characteristics. And those are:

1. Intensity

How strong is it? Is it harsh or soft? Is it hitting your subject directly ( think ‘naked’ sunshine ) or is it filtered and diffused by something? ( like clouds). Does it create strong shadows or barely any?

2. Direction

Where is the light coming from? Can you see it the source? It it high above your subject or about to go down beyond the horizon? Is there something in its path?

There are more light characteristics, but those two will play the biggest part this week. And as Autumn photography is by and large outdoor photography, we will only be concerning ourselves with outdoor light (inside light is a whole other beast).

So let’s start here. Look out the window. What can you see? Is it a sunny day with plenty of patches of bright sunshine and deep dark shadows? Or is it an overcast day, with soft even light all around, with barely any shadows. Take a moment to look outside and notice what that light is doing to the world outside, How it obscures or highlights the elements? Can you see the direction it’s coming from?

Harsh or Gentle?

Let’s start with this infrequent phenomenon of sunny weather. Here is what’s important to recognise.

  •  “Naked” sunshine creates harsher, direct light which hits everything it touches with full strength. This means that when it’s bright, it’s REALLY bright. Squinty eyes bright. Very bright patches bright.
  • Bright sunshine equals dark shadows. Absolutely no hiding from this. The brighter and more intense the light, the darker and denser and crisper the shadows. Now don’t get me wrong, shadows can be great, but some can be a distraction.

Hard, direct, intense light can give you fantastic results, but can also be quite challenging as it’s capable of literally ‘bleaching’ colours in your images.

So what can you do to soften it up? If you can, look for open or partial shade – keeping your subject right on the edge of it and facing towards the light, will help you bring back a bit more light to your subject.

OR aim to shoot either in the morning or in the afternoon, when the sun light falls to earth at a shallower angle, which can create great rim light effect for your subject. It’ll also be more interesting – with long shadows and ( in the afternoon) deeper, warmer tones. It’ll also have an easily identifiable DIRECTION and that’s the characteristic we want you to pay special attention to today.

This question should always be in your mind: WHERE is the light coming from?

And even more crucially, what does it do to my subject from one direction, and how ill it change if I change my position towards it?


Let me tell you a story of this photo above. I took my 2 year old daughter out in the morning. It had been raining the day before and I knew there was plenty of moisture in the air. The sun in the morning was strong and direct so I was counting on it giving me plenty of photogenic mist, capturing the light and creating those gorgeous streaks of light. That’s the perfect recipe for this kind of thing.

But I almost missed it. I entered the woods with the sun behind us. We walked for a bit, examined plenty of sticks, mossy logs and stones and I was disappointed to see none of that lovely mist I was hoping for. And then I turned around. And there it was. Right behind me, mocking me. We had just passed through it and I saw nothing. But it was enough to turn around and here it was.

Look at the pictures below – that’s the spot I am talking about. Same exact place, just photographed from two different sides – first, with the sun behind me, hitting the path nice and frontal. The second, with the sun lighting it up from behind ( well left-behind, but close enough).

Another example, another wooded walk with my daughter. This time it was nice and dry so I wasn’t looking for mist. The first image is again, one when the light was just falling directly onto her, from behind me and my camera. In the second, I was shooting against it – which did 2 things to her: it gave her a golden outline – we call it Rim Light, but it also hit the dry leaves on the ground, giving them a sparkling feel.

And what about colour? The same beautiful, autumnal tree photographed from two different angles will look very different.

The leaves, as they change colours and dry out a little, get a bit more translucent. Look at how that affects the leaves when they’re being back-lit? They’re starting to look like little jewels, shiny and bright. This works the best when the sun is relatively low, morning and later afternoon. When you look at a bigger picture and want a wall of colour behind your subject, choosing front lit tree wall may be a better idea though as en masse, they will give you a more uniform colour.


It’s all good and nice I hear you say. But sunshine, its not so common here in autumn. So what if it’s overcast?

Actually, overcast weather can be beautiful in photographs too.

The light is softer, more even, more forgiving. With diffused, filtered light we lose the deep shadows, and instead the light wraps around your subject more evenly. It sculpts everything gently, caressing your subjects with shadows which are just enough to hint at the three dimensional nature of your subjects, but without the loss of detail which can happen with the deep dramatic shadows.

And colours? The stunning ruby reds, vivid gold and still fresh greens stand out more. Where bright sunshine reflects off the bright and shiny leaves and makes the colours brighter, the softer light of overcast skies makes them deeper, richer, more saturated. Especially when contrasted against something darker. Add to that a little mist which coves the leaves with moisture and you have a surface which amplifies it, makes the vivid colure richer still.


In this first lesson we threw a lot at you. And with good reason. It will help you get the light right in all the tasks which will comes after. But for today, I want you to go out and look at light. Really see it, and whatever your child is doing out there, photograph them and their environment from at least two – but maybe more directions. Notice how those will be affected by the direction of light. Find a tree, walk around it, capture it from different sides.

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More from this mini series: