How to Find and Use Clean Light for Portraits

Danielle Blewitt demonstrates how to find clean light for portraits and photographers, sharing tips to enhance your portraits easily

As an artist, your work is uniquely yours and your journey as a photographer is constantly evolving. As you gain more experience shooting and editing, your work will continually change and improve over time.  One of the most important factors in creating a consistent portfolio of images is your ability to use light. Recognizing and knowing how to utilize good light is a skill that takes time to master. Today, I want to share tips about how to find and use clean lights for your portraits! 

Whether you know it or not, light can carry casts of different colors depending on what it’s bouncing off of. Have you ever struggled with skin tones when shooting outdoors in the spring? It’s likely the color casts from the vibrant colors of new growth were bouncing green onto your subject. All light is not created equal and it’s time photographers truly understood that. I think it’s important to begin training your eye to recognize when there is good light and when you can’t find good light, what to look for and how to use it to create images both you and your clients will love!  

What is Clean Light?

“Clean light” is how I refer to light that is ideal for beautiful, clean and natural portraits. This is the type of light you have when you take a photo and think “wow, that’s a great shot!” You’ll recognize clean light by looking at your client’s faces. The light on your subject’s face will be bright, free of shadows and color casts. This is the best type of light for achieving a very natural edit. 

How do you find Clean Light?

The most important tip for nailing the perfect light every time is making sure your subject is facing the open sky. What I mean by that is before you snap a picture, turn around and look up. If you have trees behind you, this means your subject will have light bouncing off the trees. The result will be shadows on your subject’s face and potentially casts of green.  Instead, find a spot where your subject will be facing open sky behind you. This could mean a slight turn from where you are standing or bringing them to a different location. 

Let’s walk through an example! 

The first photo was taken with the girl sitting on a bench. Behind me and directly in front of her was a canopy of trees. You will notice there are many shadows on her face. This made it a lot hard to edit and the end result wasn’t a shot I loved. 

Danielle Blewitt demonstrates how to find clean light for photographers

After taking this first photo, I moved her to sitting under the canopy of trees, on the edge of the shade, and instead facing a big open sky. This resulted in a well lit, high quality image that I included in their gallery. 

Danielle Blewitt demonstrates how to find clean light for portraits and photographers, sharing tips to enhance your portraits easily

Can you notice the difference it made? Being aware of the quality of light for each spot allowed me to find great light for a well lit, natural portrait. 

How to Avoid Bad Light:

First, avoid deep shade. Shade can be very difficult to shoot and edit in. Heavily wooded areas can be difficult to shoot in as you are usually fighting with trees.

Make sure you’re also mindful of what your subject is facing. If they are facing trees, or a building, this light can and will bounce and reflect colors back to your subject that could be hard to edit.

Additionally, avoid colorful surroundings. If you are shooting in a room or an outdoor space with lots of color, you may find it difficult to position your subject so they are not absorbing the colors of the space. Brightly colored rooms can be difficult especially when it’s a small space. Remember, light bounces!!

#1 Tip to Find Good, Clean Light:

Have your subject facing the open sky. This is the best advice I’ve found to help me achieve beautiful and timeless portraits for my clients. If I don’t have the time to scout the perfect light prior to a session, I will always do a self check by looking up to find the perfect spot that allows my subject to face an open sky but also pay attention to what is behind them. It can be tricky, but the end results are always worth it! 

Looking for a natural and timeless preset? Check out the Simply Natural Lightroom Preset Collection. 

This set of presets is designed to help you enhance the natural beauty of your images without altering skin tones or giving you a heavily edited image. Check them out here: Simply Natural Lightroom Preset Collection

Simply Natural Lightroom Preset Collection

Timeless, natural lightroom presets to give you a beautiful, consistent images.

If you enjoyed this guide clean light, you will love these:

Ultimate Guide to Golden Hour Photo Editing

How to Choose the Right Images for Your Website

How to Perfect Your Unique Style as a Photographer


about Danielle Blewitt

Hi, I’m Danielle. I’m a Pittsburgh, based family photographer and marketing expert. I help family photographers build and grow successful businesses using simple, organic marketing strategies. This space is designed to give you some of my best practical tips to implement in your business.

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