For Photographers

How to Have Light and Airy Photos

April 21, 2017

My photography style, without a doubt, is very light, bright, clean, and airy. And I absolutely LOVE it! I love providing photos that are light and happy, and that will always be in “style” for years to come. Years down the road, I love that my (editing) style is classic and won’t seem trendy, since I don’t change much else besides the exposure.

I am often asked how I manage to make my images so light and airy. There are definitely a lot of factors that go into this… but I want to share my top 3 tips that can help you achieve a similar style:

1. While shooting, look for light, clean backgrounds. Especially during portraits and details on a wedding day (as well as engagement sessions), you have almost total control over the backgrounds you use. I am always looking for anything as light and clean as possible. Of course, if there’s something a client wants, I am MORE than happy to go where they’d like for some shots! However, I am always looking to take some portraits with something “light” as the background.

For example, if I’m using trees as the backdrop for my bride and groom portraits, I will look for the part of the trees that has the most light glowing through the trees (or the color of the trees is the lightest).

Although I delivered this to my client for more variety, this is an example of something that I would probably not gravitate towards for portraits, because the backdrop of the trees is a little on the darker side:

how-do-you-make-your-photography-style-look-light-and-bright

And here is something I would want to use as my backdrop instead, because it gives it a more light and airy feel (they are standing in shadows, but the trees are lit up by the sun, making it nice and light for the background). See the difference? :) It makes editing them for the light and airy feel a lot easier too!

natural-light-photography-in-columbus

And another example. This time, on the left, the walls were dark red brick. I actually REALLY loved this alley, but it didn’t really play to my style as well as the light blue on the right did:

wedding-photographer-from-westerville-ohio

And one more example, this time one with darker greenery and one with lighter greenery lit by the sun:

downtown-columbus-oh-old-antique-mansion-for-a-wedding

Another good example is shooting details. Using light colored backgrounds is a great way to make this part of the day look light, and also gives your photos a more high end feel! I typically will use fabrics and light colored floors (marble, stone, etc). I also bring some nice fabrics along with me to every wedding, just in case there isn’t anything I love at the venue. I go a lot more in depth on this blog post on what’s in my Wedding Details Bag here.

ring-shot-on-stone-at-the-ohio-statehousehow-to-edit-for-a-light-and-airy-photo-style

2. Use low apertures. I almost ALWAYS have my aperture at around 1.8. The only time I will bring it up higher is for wide venue shots or family portraits… but even then, it’s always at round 2.8-3.5! I always keep it on 1.8 for portraits + details.

Having your aperture so low does a couple things:

  • This gives your images more of a “glow” because you’re letting more light in!
  • It blurs out your backgrounds more. This makes them look smoother and cleaner, further helping your images look clean, light, and airy!

Prime lenses are definitely the best way to go to use low apertures (most zoom lenses typically won’t have an aperture lower than 2.8). I only have ONE zoom lens in my camera bag… crazy, right?! I’m pretty obsessed with the low apertures prime lenses have. :)

3. When editing in Lightroom, bring your Highlights down and bring your Shadows up. I use Lightroom for the majority of my editing. My “base” preset I use on every photo has my Highlights at -90, and my Shadows are at +40. Doing these two things helps you avoid having to bring the exposure up as high, and it also helps your images from looking too blown out (while still looking light and airy). This is obviously a style preference as well (if you want more contrast in your images, you probably don’t want to do these two things!). This is just one way that really helps me to get my images light without looking way blown out!

  1. Amanda Kogan says:

    I love the light and airy look!! Your photos are gorgeous!

  2. Maisi says:

    What kind of lens do you typically use?

    • Stephanie Brann says:

      Hey Maisi! The lens I use the most is my Sigma 50mm 1.4! Although I typically use prime lenses for most of my work (I also have the Sigma 35mm 1.4 and Nikon 85mm 1.8). The only zoom lens I have is my Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 that I will get out for ceremonies + toasts at weddings! Otherwise, it’s all prime lenses for me! :) Let me know if you have any other questions!!

  3. Hi Stephanie, I just wanted to say a massive thank you for your articles – I have been searching for help like this for ages and so many photographers seem reluctant to help each other! It’s can be frustrating! I hope that I photograph fairly well these days, but still getting a really good bokeh with sharpness when photographing outdoors has been my nemisis! Anyway, I know you are thousands of miles away (I’m based just outside London!), but thank you. Helen xx
    http://www.helenmulvaneyphotography.com

    • Hey Helen! Aw, SO GLAD I could help ya out!! I totally understand that feeling, so I’m glad I can help break down those walls for you! :) Reach out if there’s any way I can help you more! Have a great rest of your weekend! ❤️

  4. Thanks so much for sharing. I use a variety of styles depending on the day and this is one look I love.

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