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Guide to light and airy photography

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by David Em
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Light and airy photography is an image style that creates bright, soft, and clean photos. Learn how to edit and take bright and airy photos.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Person wearing a beanie with hands against cheeks.

Light and airy camera settings

Photographing light and airy portraits begins with your camera settings. To achieve this look, alter your camera to the following settings:

  • Use manual mode for more creative control.
  • Set your aperture at f/2.8 or below for a blurry background.
  • Set your shutter speed at 1/200 or faster to ensure there’s no camera shake.
  • Use the lowest ISO to get the highest-quality image.
  • Shoot in RAW, which is easier to manipulate when editing.

Natural light

Lighting is the most important aspect of creating light and airy images. If used improperly, the image will be too dark with uneven shadows. On the other hand, if used well, the image looks incredible.

The soft and dreamy feel of this style often requires backlighting and soft light. Sunrise and sunset are the two best times to shoot these images because the sun will be low enough to shoot with backlight.

Related: How to shoot silhouette portraits

This means that the sun is behind the subject directly or slightly off to the side. These times of day also provide soft sunlight, while shooting in the middle of the day causes harsh light and hard shadows.

Note: Focus on reducing contrast and getting even lighting.

If you’re shooting during the day, look for open shade which makes it easier to get soft light.

It’s common to get lens flare from the sun. If you want lens flare, great. If not, move slightly and you’ll see it disappear. You’ll have to move around to see which angle looks best.

Related: Understanding color in photography

What about shooting indoors?

Shooting indoors is great because you can diffuse the light. The best place to diffuse natural sunlight when you’re shooting indoors is to shoot near a window.

Window light naturally softens the light and also can be used to frame your subject.

Exposure

It’s easy to overexpose images and this photography style can be seen as constantly being overexposed.

Related: How to fix overexposure in Lightroom

The following are the two best ways to expose bright and airy images:

  • Overexpose by a couple of stops to get a bright image out of the camera.
  • Expose the brightest part of the image perfectly then use editing software to make adjustments.

Light and airy editing

Editing is where you’ll make enhancements to your image to make it brighter and give it a softer look. Use the following tips to edit light and airy photos:

  • Increase the highlight.
  • Increase the shadow.
  • Decrease the black or increase the contrast.
  • Adjust the white balance.
  • Adjust the colors in the hue, saturation, and luminance section.
  • Slightly increase the sharpness.
  • Increase the luminance in the noise reduction section.
  • Edit using a dark grey background in Lightroom.

Using presets

Often, shooting the photo is half of the job, the other half is editing. Presets are a great way to speed up your workflow because they do a lot of the work for you.

Related: What’s secondary sunset?

However, when you’re using presets, keep in mind that they’re a place to start. Presets aren’t meant to be applied and exported because they’re created for one specific image.

The key to using presets is to apply the preset, then customize it to your liking. From there, you can copy and paste the edits to your other images.

Related: How to avoid glasses glare in photos

There are many great editing presets and you can also create your own in Lightroom. The purpose of a preset is to save time and create consistency between your images.

Conclusion

Light and airy photography make your images look soft and dreamy. It begins with your camera settings then editing is where you can make a big difference in the look and feel of the image.

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Featured photo by Unsplash.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

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About Portraits Refined

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