Having the right light is critical to having a compelling photograph, but honestly what is the “right” light? When I first started out in photography lighting of the scene was always my downfall. Once I understood the characteristics of light and started practicing under different lighting conditions I started to understand how to work with the light. I would go out to a location several times and practice shooting the same subjects over and over again just to see the changes that happen under different lighting condition. Eventually, I was able to recognize the quality and the characteristic of the light quickly so that I could employee the best resources to turn my vision into a photograph.
Generally the most desired lighting in a photograph shows three-dimensions because it gives the image depth. However, having depth in an image could sometimes distract from the mood, or an emotional factor in the photo; so shooting at a different time of day, incorporating artificial light, or filters may need to be considered.
While the sun is still low in the sky the light that it produces is clean and white; its considered side lighting. Early morning light is great for landscape photography because of the depth it creates with the elongated shadows from the aesthetic features of the landscape and the direction of the light. Secondly, the colors of the objects are usually in their truest form because of the quality of the light. Morning light is also very useful with nature and Wildlife photography because of the same reasons however, the elongated shadows may be too dramatic for what you desire; so waiting an hour or so may be in your best interest.
Mid-day light creates very short and deep shaded shadows. This light is great if you desire a High Contrast image. I especially like creating my Black and White Landscape photos during mid-day light for the dramatic contrast between light and dark. Portrait photography is difficult in this light without a fill light from a flash or using a reflector to reflect some natural light onto your subject. With nature photography mid day light usually flattens the details of the element.
From late afternoon to evening the light becomes warmer in tone and you will begin to see the shadows start to stretch across your scene just like morning light does. The warmer light is usually the kind of lighting that people are most drawn to because of the warmer tones it produces depth in an image. The warm tones of the light usually make the skin appear more healthy with a slight glow.
Tools to manipulate the Light
There are a variety of tools that can be used to manipulate the light to create balance, mood, and to soften or increase the light. Again the choice of tools depends on how you want the photograph to appear. I will elaborate more on each of these next week.
- Flashes / strobe lights
- Diffusers and Gobos
- ND Filters
Don’t limit your creativity by only going out shooting under perfectly sunny conditions, and don’t think that you need expensive equipment or tools to create the images you want. There are benefits to having a cloudy or over cast sky; they are both natural filter. Different weather conditions can also help you create a stunning photograph by adding mood. Have you ever noticed the spectacular highlights in a rain drop, or been outside while it was raining and the warm afternoon sun was out? Most people go indoors when the weather changes and they never see the beauty in the changes in weather….if its night try your hand at moonlight photography or light painting with flash lights and glow sticks; capture the beauty of artificial lights that are around you on the streets.
There is no perfectly defined definition of “The Right Light” when it comes to photography, it’s all in how you want the light to be used in your photograph….so have fun with it!