See the Light for Better Photos!
Photography is all about light. In fact the word itself is a combination of “photo” which means “light” and “graphy” which means “representing or recording” and that is exactly what photography does it records light.
Is it any wonder then that light is one of the most important aspects of photography? Yet how often do we snap away taking picture after picture with little thought to the lighting and then when we print them out or view them on the computer screen we are disappointed with the pictures our camera takes? Yet the problem is normally not the camera but in our failure to “see the light”.
The more aware we are of how even subtle changes in light can dramatically affect our photos the closer we will come to understanding how to “control the light” so we can capture the best possible photo for any given situation.
Sometimes this can be as simple as changing our angle or perspective or adjusting our camera settings. Other times it will mean moving our subject to a different location, changing the time we take the photograph, or using some type of light modifier or external light source to achieve the light we need to capture the photo the way we want it to look.
Here are some quick tips on both “seeing the light” and “controlling the light” , both of which are important to becoming a better photographer.
Changing our angle or perspective
Slight changes in the angle or perspective to our subject can sometimes make a big difference in how the light falls on them and even alter the “mood” of the photo. Trying different angles and viewpoints can help us capture a better image and sometimes minor adjustments can make a big difference in how the light falls on the subject.
For example at sunrise or sunset having your subject face the light will bathe them in a rich colorful light but have them stand with their back to the light and you can easily create a silhouette portrait that will be give us a totally different photo.
A slight change in angle can often help avoid glare from hitting the subject or avoid lens flare which is a reflection of light from the front of the lens. Finding the best angle and view is part of what separates a photographer from someone who simply takes snapshots.
Changing our camera settings
Adjusting our camera settings will allow us to compensate for less than ideal lighting conditions. This is where using the “exposure compensation” feature of a camera becomes invaluable.
For example taking pictures of people with the light at their back is known as a “back-lighting” condition. It often results in the photo being exposed for the brighter background and the subject is then too dark. Adjusting our exposure compensation will allow us to properly expose the subject without over exposing the background too much.
Of course you can also use fill flash in those conditions with excellent results as well. Slight adjustments to our exposure can help bring out the details in a dark subject and result in a much better picture. That is why learning to use the different modes and features of our camera is so important.
Moving to a different location
Changing location is often a great thing to do when taking pictures of people during the harsh, midday sun. Moving out of the direct sun into the shade of a tree is a good way of getting a more pleasing light for taking portraits. Of course this also works at those times of day when the shadows are longer. Changing our location and or angle to the subject can dramatically change the way the shadows fall and the overall “mood” of our photo.
Changing the time we take the photograph.
The time of day we take a photograph can make all the difference in the world. Subjects look different at different hours of the day. Even with photographing people if we want to use natural lighting the time of day can make a big difference in how our photos turn out.
Here are brief descriptions of the advantages and disadvantages of different times of the day.
Before Dawn—too dark for taking pictures of people but a great time for landscape photography. Using a tripod in the pre-dawn hours can help us capture those foggy, misty mornings which can give our landscape photos a surreal effect. Long exposure photos can help you capture some really cool images in the pre-dawn hours and minutes.
Sunrise and Sunset—a time of long shadows and pleasing light can be a good time regardless of your subject matter. Identify where the sun will rise or fall and plan your picture accordingly. Of course sunrise and sunset hours are great times for capturing landscape photos with colorful skies. On many days the sunrise or sunset itself can become the subject because of the overwhelming beauty that is often presented to us at the beginning and end of each day.
Early Morning and Late Afternoon—these are known as the “golden hours” because the warm, golden light. The warm light and soft shadows during these hours often make for the best lighting of the day. These times are especially good for portraits and landscapes.
High Noon—the midday hours is a time of harsh shadows and stark lighting. These hours are generally not the best time for taking pictures of people or landscapes but like anytime of the day there are ways to use the light to our advantage and with some creativity you might find that unusual angle to capture a great photo even when the light is not the best type.
Dusk and Early Evening—are great times for landscapes and pictures of buildings and city skylines. Using a tripod and longer exposure can result in a dark blue sky with your subject bathed in the street lights and floodlights that come on during the twilight hours.
Night time—even the darkest of nights present us with chances for some imaginative photography. Whether it is taking pictures of star-trails or the light streaks of cars on a highway, long exposure nighttime photography can be fun and exciting.
Using light modifiers or external light sources
External light sources can be anything from a on camera flash to external lighting such as photography strobes, etc. Using either the on camera flash or a hot-shoe flash for fill-flash can often improve your daytime portraits by helping eliminate shadows on the subject. There are several different types of light modifiers that can cover these flashes to produce a more pleasing “softer” flash effect. Many external flashes also allow you to “bounce” the flash which also softens the flash effect and avoids some of the shortcomings of direct flash.
Another type of light modifier that can be useful in natural lighting is a reflector. This can be something as simple as a large white sheet of paper or cardboard to special designed reflectors that will help eliminate shadows and result in a softer light on the subject. Reflectors and or wireless flashes both can be used to help light your subject from two different angles which often results in more pleasing portraits.
Seeing and Controlling the Light is something all of us can learn.
Because photography is all about recording or “capturing” light the better we become at understanding how different lighting conditions will affect a photo, the better we will be able to take good pictures rather than simply snapshots.
Understanding how to control our cameras in any lighting condition and with any subject will allow us to take great photos in challenging lighting conditions.
Instead of being disappointed with the “bad photos our cameras take” being able to "See the Light" will help us be able to cherish those special moments of life that we captured through the wonderful world of photography.
Until Next Month,