Light has many characteristics and each one will react differently to your subject, and in your photograph. Light that emanates from one single source with no filtration can be harsh or hard and may be unflattering to your subject depending on how you want your photograph to look. Hard light creates very sharp defined edges of your shadows and the closer the light source is to your subject the more intense that harshness will be. For me, with Landscape Photography, I really like to use midday light that is harsh for my Black and White images; I love the strong contrast.
Soft light is created my filtering the light emanating from the light source. The filters work just like the lamp shades in your home; in nature the clouds or haze in the sky becomes the filter. Light will pass through the filter but the intensity will change depend on the material and the depth of the material. Soft light is also created by using a diffuser, a diffuser usually has different patterns molded into it which allows light to ricochet off in a different direction. With soft light the shadows are not as dark and the edges fade off gradually. The color of the softened light will be altered by the color of the material filtering the light. Take for example sun light filtering there a wooded area, the hue of the light will become more green… or red depending on the season.
I hate to point out the obvious but natural light characteristic change continuously throughout the day, you see theses change as the sun passes over us. However, most people do not realize that light characteristics change with the seasons as well. If you have ever seen a sunrise or sunset in the summer and one in the winter you’ll know what I’m talking about. During the summer months two things happen; first the sun is closer to the earth and secondly there is more haze in the sky from evaporation than during the winter months. In the summer, the sunlight reflects off the microscopic water molecules which produces a more powerful golden color throughout the sky at sunrise and sunset. During the winter months there is less moisture in the atmosphere and the sun is further away so during sunrise there is more whites visible around the sun and blues in the sky. The same thing happens at sunset but it is less noticeable because of all our daily activity; we stir up minuet particles of dust and then there’s the pollution; both react similar to the moisture haze. Check out the two photographs above: The first photograph Sunset Over Woodland Marsh was capture in mid August while Wicked Tree was capture in Late January, look at the difference in colors and hues. The entire mood and temperature of each photograph is completely different.
There are three types of artificial light sources, incandescent, fluorescent, and LED. Incandescent light are warmer in tone so there is normally a yellowish tint to the light that it emanates. Fluorescent lights give off a blue color tint. Our eyes are accustomed to these lights so they adapt very quickly to their color casts however when it come to photography it’s a completely different story. Both of these light sources usually require an adjustment to your white balance setting either before in camera or after the shoot in post product. LED is a cleaner light source with little to no color cast.
Each characteristic can be used to your advantage in photography but you need to understand what they are and how you can use them or lose them depending on your needs for your particular shoot. The color casting can add a bit of drama to an image and create an artistic mood to your scene. Thank you for reading, I hope you found it helpful. The next article, Working with the Light is now available.