Monday, November 24, 2008

Better Photography - Look at the Light

photo by:ChrisY

Story by: Duncan Wherrett

Photoshop is now one of the major computer programmes around. The basis of it all, however, is the photographic image.

Very often the quality of the original image can get overlooked or can be considered unimportant. We hear sentences like: "Oh that'll do - we'll fix it later in Photoshop".

Perhaps it can, but starting off with a better photograph in the first place can save a lot of trouble later.
Well begun is half done.

Light does have a special place in photography, but all too often it is largely
ignored, whereas in actual fact, different light can change the whole scene
dramatically. Good photography requires lighting rather than light and when
shooting outside, the light can be controlled and used in much the same way
as it is used when photography is undertaken in a studio.

At the risk of stating the obvious, light is a visual thing, and it should be
considered in its own right and used and controlled as much as possible by
being more selective about the time and place when the photograph is taken.
A change in the light will change the landscape and with a little practice these
changes will soon be noticed.

Spring light in the early morning gives a feel to
a scene not found later in the day.

Early morning light and sun have a unique quality not found at other times
– a freshness and sparkle with or without any mist. Such circumstances
give a special feel to most situations, and it can be worth rising for an early
morning walk in order to catch these moments. The atmosphere of a scene
will, therefore, be greatly influenced by the light and the same scene can look
very different in the sun, under cloud or in the numerous changing weather

Evening light adds warm tones and, with long dramatic shadows, will give extra modelling to the subject. The same scene photographed with a high sun in the middle of the day can look flat and uninteresting.

The low sun emphasizes the shape and character of the scene.

Back light, that is shooting into the sun, also has its own qualities, giving attractive halos to the subjects.
If there is water in the scene, such as a lake or river, then the use of back light will put a real sparkle into the water.
With the sun in front of the photographer, the water has a sparkle it would not have if the sun had been in any other position.

Even the sun behind the photographer can be effective sometimes, although it is not generally recommended, because it will make the subject look too flat and characterless. The very low sun over one's shoulder late in the day, however, can give colours a strength and richness not normally seen.
It's under such circumstances, with the sun behind the photographer, that rainbows are usually seen.

Perhaps one of the most appealing types of sunlight is that of dapple light,
with a strong sun shining through trees and lighting up the subject in patches.
In any season, such sunlight can really make the picture, with its depth and
multitude of tones. If there is any early mist around, the sunlight might be
seen as shafts of light and with autumn leaves there is likely to be an extra
warm glow to the colour of the light.

Dapple light can give an interesting look to a scene.

There can be situations where a cloudy day is best. Strong sun gives a
bright picture but it also gives high contrast. When the sun is shining in a
narrow street or a picturesque alley in a Mediterranean village, some of the
street will be in strong sunshine and some of it will be in shadow.

This will give a contrast range which is so extreme that it will not be possible to produce a good print through a normal printing system. In such circumstances, if you can manage to photograph that side street or market corner on a cloudy day or when no sun is directly on that area, then the lighting will be much more even and all of the detail will be printable.

Certain lighting conditions can definitely be a bonus:

  • sun poking through the clouds
  • sun on rain-covered ground
  • a shaft of sunlight coming through a window or doorway.

All this means that it is not advisable to shoot too quickly, but to look at the
light and consider its effect. The sun brings out colours and brings everything
alive so it can be worth waiting perhaps 10 minutes for the weather to change, or going back on another more suitable occasion.

A potentially good picture can be a great disappointment purely because
the light at the time does not do the scene justice. It can often be better to save the film on a very dreary day and return later when the sun has moved round to the best side of a building or landscape.

Just a short walk might be sufficient for that gap in the clouds that will
send out shafts of sunlight; or try using the gathering storm clouds to your
photographic advantage before running for cover.


* Look at the light, and its effect on the subject
* Don't shoot too quickly but be prepared to come back when the light might be more suitable.

Article Directory:

Photographs which illustrate the points described here can be seen at
A reminder then that better photography makes later work in Photoshop easier.

No comments:

Custom Search