Shooting Light & Airy - The "Other" 4 Factors & How To Control Them

Hey you!

Let's talk about the "other" 4 factors that will influence how light and airy your images are (and I am not referring to the haunted beings from that scary movie "The Others"!) since we already talked a bit about the role your equipment plays in this post here. 

The other factors that are going to play a role in creating light & airy images are location, the time of day you shoot, and lastly (the two that are not as easily controlled) the weather and the clothing that your clients wear.  

This is a bit long-winded and FULL of tips - so maybe you should go refill your cup of coffee before you dive in... oh, and grab your notebook!

Location & Time of Day

The part you can control - the location and time - are fairly easy.

Location - The brighter, cleaner colors that your background has - the brighter your overall image will be.  So there is a reason those bright sandy beaches (or west coast deserts) make such beautifully light & airy images.  The sand is a nice neutral color and light is bouncing around everywhere off of the sand... where as if we work in a tree covered foresty area... (hello, Michigan!) we don't have a ton of clean light flooding in and bouncing onto the skin and clothes. So we have to work a little harder in those situations.  So the location is going to play a big role in the overall brightness and tones of your image.

Example time! Below are two examples for you to see how we can have perfect conditions which require little work and trickier spots that require a little extra creativity.  On the left we have a perfect scenario of a bright sandy beach and light colored rocks and Allison had perfectly light and airy outfits picked out!  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Then on the right (same couple, same night)... we have a park filled with greenery!  So I countered all that green by placing my couple right at the edge of the grass where there was a sidewalk in front of them as well as a light colored building across the street that reflected clean light back onto their skin.  

light and airy portrait photography tips

So as you can see, you can TOTALLY shoot light and airy when you are surrounded by greenery.  You will just need to be extra picky about the following things: where you place your subject, your white balance setting, your exposure, and most importantly the time of the day.

Let's talk about time of day!  So here is a PRO tip - DO NOT shoot in the middle of the day in super green locations if you can help it. You will get neon greens and horrible green cast on your subject's skin that is going to make you miserable when it comes time to edit.  It isn't impossible to shoot in midday, but if you are just beginning... make your life easier and stick to eeeearly morning or right around sunset for beautiful soft light.  Then place your subject in open shade or with their back to the sun and backlight your images.  Overexpose just a tad for the shadows on a person's skin (shoot manual, always and forever), and set your white balance to Kelvin and pick an appropriate number.  Start at about 6000 Kelvin and adjust from there. 

I typically meet my clients about 2 hours before sunset as we warm up and get comfortable with each other and then get the really good stuff towards the end of the session and closer to sunset. If you shoot close to sunset, you are going to get those beautiful golden tones that work so well with light and airy styles.  This is the BEST for engagement sessions.  The light is so romantic and the couples always love those shots with the sun shining between them (backlit images). 

EXTRA PRO TIP:  Do yourself a favor and add this site to your bookmarks and check it before scheduling your sessions by plugging in your shooting location and start your session within 2 hours of either sunrise or sunset:   In Michigan I avoid times between 10:00 am - 2:00 pm at all costs!

Weather & Clothing

Ok, we won't talk about weather tooooo much because there is not much you can do about it besides reschedule.  Which is rarely convenient.  So instead, we need to learn to work with it! No matter they type of light we are offered up by Mother Nature!  So when you have softer more diffused light with a few clouds... you will have an easier time getting cleaner skin tones and soft even light.  If you have full on blazing sun... you will need to find some open shade until the sun has fallen low enough, to pull of backlighting your subject.  So you can find open shade near a tree, overhangs of buildings, gazebos, etc.  So the point to pick up on here is make sure your location has options. 

Example time! Below on the left, it was about 2 hours before sunset and it was a cloudy and diffused light that day. So I could place my beautiful couple just about anywhere and still get soft even light.   On the right, it was again about 2 hours before sunset without a single cloud in the sky and the sun was blazing! So I had to be much more careful and place my couple in some open shade underneath the overhang of a bright colored building in order to get soft and even light. 

light and airy photography in michigan
light and airy portraits in michigan

Now clothing is something you can't completely control but you CAN advise your clients in a certain direction if you would like.  The brighter and more neutral colored clothing is ALWAYS going to make for a lighter and airier image.  Hands down.   If your clients show up in blacks, browns, dark denim, etc. you are immediately going to have a slightly darker image overall.  It will not ruin your style at all, it is just going to push you to keep a little more contrast and blacks in your editing at the end of the day and be more careful about where you place them.  

You don't have to adjust your editing style to be moodier or darker when they show up in darker clothes.  What you can adjust and control though, is where you place your subject and by putting them against bright and neutral backdrops you will brighten up the overall image and combat the darker clothing.  This will help keep consistency with your light and airy style.   If you put their dark clothes against a dark backdrop, then you are setting yourself up for more of a moodier look before you ever even get to editing.  So an example might be - instead of placing them against a tree covered backdrop, turn them around and shoot them in an open field or in a clearing in the trees like a lane or driveway, against a light colored building, on the beach, etc. 

Example Time!  Below you will see in both images that my clients are wearing slightly darker clothes overall (except for Jenn's top) so I chose to place them to the side of the land so that I had a nice bright background behind them, with just a hint of the land showing on the side for some extra color and pop.  If I had composed this with my couple against the land with no sky and water... the image would have been much darker overall. Make sense? 

UP michigan portrait at pictured rocks
couple smiling and laughing natural portrait

I usually like to let my clients wear what they feel comfortable with and just adjust my shooting locations and composition unless they specifically ask for recommendations.  However, if you want to try and guide all of your clients towards lighter clothing choices, than I suggest sending your clients an e-mail with some suggestions a couple weeks before their session.  You could do this with a Pinterest board, an attached pdf guide with examples, or even with a blog post that you refer them to.  Remember that you want to guide and show your clients what you want to be shooting.  If you want to shoot light and airy images like the ones I have shared here, then that is what you need to be showing on your website, Facebook, Instagram, etc. 

Show more of what you want to shoot. 

I hope you found at least one piece of helpful advice here!  

Want more?

Join my e-mail list for extra tips and tricks and then e-mail me back with what content you would like to see me talk more about!

ps.  You will get a ton of free stock images to use in your own social media when you sign up for my list!