Lighting: An Essential Ingredient for Great Photos
Published on: December 08, 2020
Ian Taylor shares his expert tips for using natural light to your advantage when taking photos of your family in Bangkok.
By Ian Taylor
Making a nice photo is like making a decent meal. You get a bunch of ingredients together and combine them. No matter how skilled the chef or photographer, ultimately, the results rest on the components.
Light is arguably the most important raw ingredient in making candid portraits. While the composition and the ‘moment’ are also factors, you can’t make a nice photo without nice light. I can’t state it any simpler than that. It all starts with quality light.
The best thing you can do overall for your photography is to learn how to look for, and use, light. Mainly this means looking for flattering soft light.
The most workable natural light is what we call ‘open shade’. This is usually a big open area with very bright ambient light. Trees are the most reliable source of open shade, but buildings work. Simple rule, if the light is casting a shadow, it’s probably too bright. (Or if your kid is squinting!)
So even on a super sunny day, you can almost always find open shade. Get into the shadows where the sunlight is still bouncing around and creating perfect light in every direction.
How does the search for nice light affect taking family photos here in Bangkok? There aren’t as many options as cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, Vancouver, and Toronto, all of which have tons of parks and beaches. In Bangkok, that means many decent locations are overrun with photographers, especially on the weekends. But there are still plenty of choices.
As my working life for the past fifteen years has been entirely dictated by the sun, I have a very simple rule. On sunny days head for the shade, and on overcast days look for open areas.
So much of photography is counter-intuitive. That’s why I would much rather photograph kids on a drizzly day than in exposed super sunny conditions.
Parks with lots of trees and big patches of grass work in any weather. In downtown Bangkok that means Lumpini Park. Lumpini Park has it all: beautiful foliage, lots of grass, some streams with bridges, and a few cool structures that can be used as backdrops. It’s busy but huge, so you never have a problem with crowds.
Rama 9 Park is much more open but has some great shaded spots as well. Benjasiri Park, while small, can be great in the mornings or later in the day.
Urban jungle shoots are perfect for sunny days. Talat Noi, Yaowarat, Charoen Krung, these are all world-class backdrops for kids’ pictures.
A classic Bangkok location that works in any type of light is Wat Po. While I wouldn’t advise using just any temple as a photo location, Wat Po is (usually) full of tourists taking crazy numbers of photos, so there is no problem doing kids’ photos there. Obviously, be respectful and dress appropriately. 90% of the visitors are packed into 10% of the temple grounds, so wander off and explore. There are an endless number of interesting backdrops with perfect light. I regard kids’ photos as family history, so using a historical location makes for images that will transcend time. Wherever your kids end up as grown-ups, they will have some cool images to remind them of their childhood in an amazing city.
Years ago, I was photographing an expat family at Wat Po. The little boy was born in Bangkok, and his nanny spoke to him in Thai, so he was a true ‘third culture’ kid (TCK). The light was far too strong in the open, so I looked for nice soft light in shaded areas. We found a spot, and I moved a long way back with a telephoto lens and just let him do his thing. I wasn’t chatting with him as I do when working close up. Suddenly, he did a wai, and I got one of my favorite photos of all time, a true ‘Light, Frame, Moment’ photo. TCK kids always make for interesting photos; you just have to get them out into the local environment.
This is usually the time of year when families start thinking about family photos. That coincides with the start of the cooler weather here, so get out and take some pictures of your kids. If you have questions about anything in this little lesson, feel free to contact me. The world needs better family photos!
Photos courtesy of Ian Taylor Photography.
About the Author
Ian Taylor is a Bangkok-based Canadian photographer working worldwide since 2005. Since starting his Asian career at The Cambodia Daily newspaper in the mid-’90s, he (normally!) travels for much of the year to photograph families, schools and NGOs. In his spare time he plays music and kayaks the Andaman. Visit iantaylor.ca or Ian Taylor: Photographer on Facebook. For more tips see How to Take Better Photos of Your Kids!
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