This post is all about achieving a great shot, straight out of camera (SOOC). There are a million settings on your camera, and photography accessories that can help you do this, but in my opinion, understanding how to use the natural light around you is THE most important aspect of photography. And the best part? Understanding different lighting situations enhances your pictures, and it will cut down on your editing time so much! I dunno about you, but my time is limited, and the fewer hours I have to spend trying to lighten and brighten a photo in Photoshop, the better.
So when it comes to light, the best time to shoot is during the "golden hour" which is an hour or two before sunset. An example of this is the photo above, this was in the evening and I got lots of golden, creamy light. Seriously yummy. But regardless of when you shoot, the general rule of thumb is to always have your light source in FRONT of your subject. If the light source is behind them, you will have trouble capturing any light in their eyes and you'll also have trouble focusing and capturing detail. One thing to note: Be weary of putting your subject in the direct sunlight. Squinty eyes and harsh shadows are hard to work with. Obviously, there are occassions you might want to play around with the sunlight. But for the most part, if you're trying to get a clean, crisp, well lit photo -- make sure that you have a significant amount of light but keep them out of the sun. Try to find a nice, bright, shady area. Or if you're inside, put them right beside a big window.
Here is an example of what not to do with lighting:
This would have been a completely different photo, if she was turned the other way, toward the light source (i.e. the bright sky). Sure, I could try to save this photo with lots and lots of fill light and selective dodging & burning. But would it be worth it? Personally, I don't think so. Chances are that when I was done editing and trying to make correct the exposure, it would just look overly processed. This photo should be thrown out.
Here are some examples of properly exposed photos SOOC:
Editing time: Less than 5 minutes! All I had to do was a little sharpening and quick color popping and that's it! Oh, and for fun I converted it to B&W. :)
Here are a couple of other examples of a properly exposed photo SOOC:
Once you get familiar with different lighting situations, it becomes so easy to achieve a perfectly exposed image straight out of camera! Just practice, and you'll get the hang of it!
Do you have any questions about photography & lighting? I'd love to try and help!