One simple lighting rule for photography

If there was one basic rule to taking better photos with your iPhone, what would it be?

Over the weekend, I was listening a recent episode of John Gruber’s The Talk Show with guest Merlin Mann and the subject came up.

The most basic rule of photography is to have the light behind you, they said.

This is something that I do all the time and never thought about in such basic terms. If there was just one rule to follow, this is it.

When the light is shining on the front of your subject, it is fully illuminated and all of the colors are highlighted.

When you take a picture of something and there is light behind them, either they become dark and the background will come through, or the subject will be fine and the background will be blown out.

Now, are there times where you break this, of course. Photographs of food look better when light is coming from the front. And sometimes the whole point of the photo is to capture both the subject and the background.

If someone is at a baseball park, for example, you want the field in the background and not the stands. Of a sunset, you want to have it behind the people. There is a quick way to address this: turn on the flash. This will brighten up the front and

I would only really recommend this outside during the day or at sunset, otherwise the flash will make the photo look like you are, well, using a flash. Sometimes, this is what people want, but looks unnatural.

Keep the light behind you is particularly important on iPhones. Sometimes when someone asks you to take a quick picture, you need to act fast. And with you camera in your pocket, it could come at any moment. Look at where the light is coming from and have your subject facing it, so the light is shining on them.

While computational photography is getting better and better on the iPhone, especially with the introduction of Smart HDR on the iPhones XS and XR, this basic rule is still important. The new phones are better than any other phone, and even some big, fancy DSLRs, and quickly gathering multiple levels of exposure, but it doesn’t always work.

As with any basic rule, there is a long list of exceptions, but if you’re just starting out or are in pinch, start here.