Photography and Lighting
This article is a thought-provoking post rather than a how-to. Understanding light in photography and its effects can be very useful more just saying grab this and that and do this.
Turn a dull photograph into a vibrant, colourful photo
Let us have a chat about light. The stuff that leaves the sun and a few minutes later arrives on our planet and illuminates the world so living beings like us can see all those glorious colours and shapes around us. If there was not a sun, not only would the planet be completely dead but, our cameras would be useless as there is not an ISO that goes up into the trillions.
So here we have it, there is light all about us 24 hours a day, even in the dead of night. To find somewhere that no light reaches is not an easy task but, deep in a cave or a sealed box should do it.
So what is the difference between night and day? well apart from the obvious one, the sun is around the corner, there is also another way to look at this. There is less light bouncing around of objects and generally in the atmosphere, in other words, not as bright as day.
But there is still light there.
So how does this apply to our photography?
Consider this. We have some uplighters in out front room, it is night time and main light is on. We flick on the uplighters and voila, the walls have different tones of colour and look as if we have a different colour of paint around where the uplighters are.
What we are seeing is a light source bring out those lovely colours and shapes.
Light is our best friend, Light brings out vivid colours, light shows shape and depth, without it, we will have very dark photographs.
Types of Light Sources
This list could be huge but we stick to the main two we all have available.
The Sun: This is the number one choice but, a full on midday sun can be harsh. With a nice overcast sky (the clouds act like a diffuser) we can get some amazing bright shots with no harsh edges and dark shadows. There is a time of day called the golden hour where there is plenty of light but the sun is low enough not to destroy a good photo. Just after dusk and just before dawn.
Experiment: Grab a person, stick them in the garden with the sun behind them. Not so the sun is blinding you in the face, maybe off to a side a bit. Grab your camera, Flash On, and take a photo. See the results.
Fixed Camera Flash: These fire light straight out and forwards, which means it will come straight back again. Some really nice effects can be got from a flash.
Experiment: Use the default settings on your flash and grab a person. Set your aperture quite wide (f5 ish) and take a photo of their face. Make sure the background is at least a meter away from them. Do another, make the background further away. Keep altering distance from the camera to face and face to the background and see the effect.
When we look around us no matter where we are, there are shadows, bright areas, and areas that are darker. This difference between the brightest to the darkest areas is our contrast and if too extreme is hard for our camera to capture, and our eyes as well.
An example of this is looking at a woodline with a clear sky in the background. The camera will either have an overexposed sky or a dark woodline.
A second example is a holly leaf. These are typically shiny and reflect light easily. The green will come out and so will an overexposed reflection of the sun.
Effects of light
Light bounces of pretty much everything at all sorts of angles. Depending on the colour of a surface, the amount reflected can be more or less. When there is something in the way of this light we get a shadow so wherever we look we see differences in light and dark. Going back to an earlier paragraph, this also gives changes in tones and shape. A very good example of this is in portrait photography. Bad lighting, for example, a single flash, sun in the face or low light can make a person either look very bland and dull or every nook and cranny stand out like a sore thumb.
What can we do to balance a photo better?
At this point we will not talk about the histogram in the viewfinder, we will use something better, our eyes. If you can see a huge difference between a bright and dark area, so can the camera.
If I have a model sat on a chair and a single spotlight point at her face, there will be shadows, around the eyes, nose, lips, and hair. So I need another light to reduce or remove shadows. Maybe 3, 4 or 5 lights to create a nice well-lit area. Maybe shine the spotlight through a white sheet to diffuse the brightness. We could also use a reflector to add light to the shadows. It all boils down to balancing the light and not having extremes of contrast.
A few tips to play with light
- Sunlight is the best source of light. Use it. Clouds act like a nice diffuser.
- Grab an old white sheet, point you spotlight at it (not sheet on spotlight – fire hazard) and then the object to be photographed in front of that.
- If you want a selfie, check whats behind you. To bright background, you will look dull.
- Flatlay. Use natural light over indoor lights and add a reflector to balance the light. Make or buy one. Here.
- If you are shooting indoors unless you have amazing lighting use a tripod.
- Use a flash outside in the daytime, look at the results.
- Shadows can create dramatic lovely effects, but not when half the photo is overexposed.
- Constant light is easier to manage than flash guns and all the gadgets that come with them.
- In the midday sun, use a white sheet between the sun and object to diffuse the light.
- Light is your friend. A very good friend.
Light is the most important thing to photography. Good constant light can make a photo amazing. It adds colour, shape, and depth to an image. There are times we want under or overexposed areas to a photo, for that creative edge but, understanding light really can make a dull selfie look like an amazing, professional photo. With a nice balanced photo, we can really exploit programs like Adobe Lightroom and achieve really amazing images with minor changes to tones and colours. One last point, get a tripod. They are not expensive and really can take your photography to a new level.