My Process for Light and Airy Photos
While there’s definitely something to be said for a moody image, my heart is set on light and airy photographs! Imagine a sea of images that feel like a dream. Yeah, I think we can all confess that we love light and airy images. So, how do you make it happen?
First, we need to remember that a light and airy image is something you love because of how it makes you feel. Art is like that. This means that light and airy images don’t start with editing, they start with...
Image below edited with the Light and Airy Preset Suite
Choose the Setting
Think of your location, and every single detail that makes the image, as the groundwork for the image. You can’t shoot a light and airy image in a pitch-black room without some intervention or manipulation. Look for light and look for a lot of it.
Step One: Light the foreground
You will want to have a good, even, light source either between you and your subject or behind you (assuming you’re not blocking the source… so, like, you will need the sun). Look for a light source that has been diffused, or scattered. Think about light like a flashlight and a white or neutral wall. The flashlight is your light source and the white/neutral wall is your light reflector. Okay, so if you stand 3 feet from a white wall and turn on your flashlight, there will be a bright spot on the wall. For light and airy photographs, you’re not looking for this kind of light.
If you stand 10 feet from a white wall and turn on your flashlight, the light will cover more of the wall. You are looking for this kind of light.
Step Two: Light the background
Now that you have a scattered, or diffused light source on your subject, you want to introduce light into your frame behind your subject. Look through your viewfinder from different angles. If there are a lot of deep shadows behind your subject, try a different angle. Look for a background similar to the foreground.
Related: Free light and airy preset
Step Three: Shoot in golden hour
Try shooting in the first two hours of the day or the last two hours. There is a lot more flexibility with lighting during these hours because the sun isn’t hitting everything. The sun is to the side and the sky has become the main light source (like using a flashlight on a white wall from 10 feet away).
Pick digital or film (or both)
If you're shooting digital
If you are shooting digital make sure to avoid bright spots in your photograph. Digital images don’t handle overexposure very well, so you'll want to watch for that. You have seen highlight loss if you have ever seen someone lose the top of their head in an image (or you don’t know where there hair stops and the background begins).
Shoot in RAW. If you want light and airy digital photos, you are going to need to make edits to your image and you're going to need all the detail you can get (aka shoot in RAW)! Full tutorial below.
Edited with the Light and Airy Preset Suite.
If you're shooting film
If you are shooting film, you will want to overexpose your images. Film does not handle the shadows as well as digital. The detail in underexposed shadows can turn into a muddy mess on film if you aren't careful. Making sure that your light is well-balanced (light in the foreground and background) will help you avoid these issues.
Master your bokeh
Bokeh is just a cute name for blur. You get a lot of blur in your images by having a low aperture (sometimes listed like this: f/1.8 or f/2.0). So low aperture = narrow depth of field = blur. As you lower your aperture, less and less will be in focus. Using a low aperture really helps you to achieve the light and airy look because it (1) naturally brightens the image (2) puts the focus on just a few details. Blur is your light-and-airy friend.
Time to edit those light and bright film images
start a conversation with your lab
Don’t be afraid to tweak your film images to make sure they are just right. But also, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your lab. They want to make sure that you’re not re-editing every image they send your way. There might be a few things you can change while shooting and there might be a few things they can change on their end!
Time to edit those light and airy digital images
Step one: edit on a white background
If you want light and airy images, you need to compare them to something light and airy. A white background will do the trick! Just click “develop” in the menu, right click the background, and select “white” for the background color.
Step two: Download the free light & airy preset
Apply this beauty to every digital image! The tutorial will walk you through our Light & Airy Preset Suite. Hello, 10 second edits! You can learn more here: Light & Airy Preset Suite.
Light and airy for the win! Happy shooting and editing. If you have any questions about my process, I would love to answer them in the comments below.