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How to take light and airy photos (Plus editing tips)

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by David Em
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Light and airy is a style that produces bright and soft photos with less contrast. Learn how to take and edit light and airy photos.

Person wearing a beanie with hands against cheeks.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Photography and editing styles fall into two main categories, dark and moody or light and airy.

Dark and moody photos have a lot of contrast, deep shadows, and richer colors.

Light and airy images are soft and bright with less contrast and muted colors. They’re also whimsical and beautiful.

If you resonate with the style, the following are the best tips to take and edit light and airy photos.

How to shoot light and airy photos

Since the light and airy style has less contrast and a soft look, the process begins in-camera. Also, you can take light and airy photos indoors or outdoors.

Take the following steps to ensure you capture light and airy photos out of the camera.

Look for even lighting

Couple hugging while sitting on rocks above the water.
Light and airy photos are bright and have minimal contrast. Photo courtesy of Canva.

Whether the photoshoot is indoors or outdoors, even light is essential.

The location needs even lighting for your subject, the foreground, and the background.

Even lighting ensures there aren’t uneven or deep shadows. It also reduces the contrast.

The most popular times to take light and airy photos are the golden hours, which occur at sunrise and sunset.

Both times provide soft and beautiful sunlight. Front and backlighting work well for light and airy photos.

If you shoot in mid-day natural light, the key is to find shade. Otherwise, your subject will have uneven and harsh shadows.

If the session is indoors, you can use artificial or window light.

Related article: 11 ways to take incredible indoor natural light photos

Regardless of the location, even lighting is the key.

Use a wide aperture

Your lens is more important than your camera in the light and airy photography style.

A key feature is a soft, dreamy, and blurry background, which requires a wide aperture.

Aside from a creamy background, your subject will stand out more.

So, use the largest aperture of your lens. It should be f/2.8 or wider. Most prime lenses offer f/1.4 to f/1.8 as the widest.

If you have a kit lens, the widest aperture is likely around f/3.5 to f/4.

To capture a blurry background with a kit lens, increase the distance between your subject and the background.

Balance the exposure

When you think of the light and airy photography style, overexposure seems like the reasonable solution.

But, overexposure isn’t the go-to solution for light and airy photos.

The goal is to capture a bright photograph with little-to-no contrast and soft shadows. So, balance the exposure.

The image needs to be perfectly exposed or underexposed. Then, you can brighten it in post-processing.

Also, shoot in RAW because it’s uncompressed and retains all the details. It’ll be easier to edit than a JPEG.

Related article: What’s the difference between RAW and JPEG?

Use a light or neutral background

Person walking across a street while holding a coffee.
Neutral backgrounds help create a light and airy feel. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Light or neutral backgrounds are the best because they provide a dreamy and airy look.

Several examples include trees, fields, and plain walls.

Also, you can use the light from the golden hour as a backlight to create a beautiful glow behind your subject.

When light or neutral backgrounds are out of focus, make sure your subject is in sharp focus.

It looks stunning with a beautiful and dreamy background.

Light and airy wardrobe

The subject’s clothes should match the light and airy vibe.

Before the session, tell your subject to wear light, plain, pastel, or neutral colors. It’ll look the best and help you achieve a light and airy look.

Another option is to bring a white, beige, or grey blanket. The subject can wrap themselves in or hold the blanket to match the feel of the photo.

How to edit light and airy photos

Person wearing a dress and walking on white sand.
Clean and light backgrounds are perfect for light and airy photos. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

The first step is to capture a beautiful photo with your camera.

Then, you can adjust the photo with editing software, such as Lightroom, Photoshop, or Luminar.

The light and airy style is bright. So, be careful not to overexpose the image.

Use the following tips to edit in a light and airy style:

  • Increase the highlight or white, as you want.
  • Decrease the contrast to create a softer look.
  • Adjust the white balance to be pure white or have a warm tint.
  • Adjust the colors in the hue, saturation, and luminance section to be on the muted side.
  • Slightly increase the sharpness.
  • Increase the luminance in the noise reduction section.

The light and airy editing style consist of a brighter image with less contrast and muted colors.

While you can increase the exposure slider, it’s better to use the highlight or white slider because it doesn’t affect the shadows.

As you edit the photo, watch the exposure to ensure it doesn’t become too overexposed.

Use a Lightroom preset to edit faster

If you have a lot of photos to edit, consider presets.

In Lightroom, you can create and save presets or buy them online and import them.

Presets are excellent because they speed up your workflow. Light and airy presets give you a place to start, as it does most of the edits for you.

Use a preset and make adjustments. Then, copy and paste the edit onto other similar images.

It’ll save you time and create cohesion within your photos.

Conclusion

Light and airy photos are dreamy, bright, and have little to no contrast. Begin using the light and airy style in your images.

Nail the exposure and settings in-camera. Then, perfect the look in editing software.

Remember, light and airy don’t mean blown out or overexposed.

Balance the exposure and focus on reducing shadows, contrast, and muted colors

Related articles:

Featured image courtesy of 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.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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