Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Natural Light


NATURAL LIGHT

(compiled by Diane Bohlen)
Photography is a visual communication. A photograph should tell a story, evoke emotion and engage the viewer.
Learning how to use Natural Light will improve our photography and achieve the above. After all the meaning of the word “Photograph” comes from the Greek; photo = light and graph = to draw. So photograph = to draw with light.
The following ideas come from the eBook “ Natural Light” by Mitchell Kanashkevich and is available from the website “Digital Photography School”, (http://digital-photography-school.com/)
Start by observing light in everyday life. Notice how rays of light illuminate everything when you walk down a familiar street. Look at how sunlight pours into a room. Then do it all again at a different time and in different weather.
Be obsessed with natural light. Together with ‘Composition’,  ‘Light’ is the most important element of photography. Learn how to read light. Look at other photographer’s photos and ask: ‘What does it convey?’, ‘What time of the day is it?’, ‘What direction is it coming from?’, ‘Could it have been shot in a different light?’.
Photo by Carol P

You don’t need fancy gear just an understanding of how natural light works and how to use it as a tool. You needn’t be far from home to apply your knowledge of light.

The Role of Natural Light

Light is necessary for communication to take place. It doesn’t just light the scene but the way it hits the scene can tell a story or create mood, atmosphere and emotion. It can make the image dynamic and dramatic. The interplay of light and dark tones can sculpture a shape and give it volume and depth. Light can lead our eye to what is important in the story but the most important role is to create mood and atmosphere.

Photo Mitchell K

The Power of Natural Light

Natural Light is always changing and so there are many different types of light, Heavy cloud produces a neutral light which gives a melancholic mood where as a clear day at sunset  gives a vibrant light which creates an exciting happy mood. This is an example where different light can give the same story but a different mood.
Photo by Mitchell K

Use Light as a Tool
There is no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ light. Many photographers maintain that early and late hours are best times to shoot but we can learn to use any light situations to our advantage. It is well known that sunset and sunrise is the ‘Magic Hour’ or the ‘Golden Hour’ when the light makes beautiful photos but it can limit the types of photos you take.  
Photo by Diane B

To convey drama, mystique, hardship or sadness you need different types of light. However, we can’t pull out a paint box. We don’t have control over natural light. We need to adapt to what we have been given. Use the ‘Golden Hour’ for beautiful shots and overcast, stormy skies for telling of hardship or struggle.
Photo by Mitchell K

Types of Light

Twilight (The time after the sun has set or before the sun has risen)

This light can produce beautiful and mystical shots. It creates a soft image without shadows. The presence of clouds can result in spectacular colours. Pink, red, orange, yellow and purple.
Photo by Mitchell
Twilight also has a tinting effect on colours and the image. The light is directional, it can bounce off clouds and it is stronger where the sun has just disappeared or is about to rise. However, this light lacks power and can cause blur.
Camera shake can cause blur when the shutter speed slows down to let in more light. Try to use a wide aperture f2.8 or more, the highest ISO before it becomes grainy and the fastest shutter speed possible before the exposure is too dark. Use a wide angle lens, less zoom means less camera shake. Stabilize yourself, hold your breath, use continuous shots one should be good. Doing this you should be able to go as slow as ¼ sec without blur but if not use a tripod.
Movement of the subject can cause blur in low light. Slow movement blurs at ¼ second and faster movement blurs at 1/25 second. Try using motion blur as creative tool.
Photo by Mitchell
Tones can disappear in twilight. Try to let as much light in as possible wit a wide aperture and slow speed. If the subject is still use a tripod wit a slow speed. Otherwise use the lack of colours to your advantage and make the focal point a silhouette.
Photo by Mitchell K
The contrast becomes harsh in failing light. To fix this use post processing programs such as Photo Shop, Lightroom , Aperture etc. Use HDR with still subjects.
Tell a Story with Twilight Light. The moods associated with twilight are mystical, romantic, calmness, tranquility and excitement if the clouds are coloured.  Nature scenes and people finishing or starting their day are good subjects for this time. Its not the best for cheerful happy scenes.
Photo by Diane B

The Golden Hour (The hour before the sun sets or after the sun rises)

This light has beautiful tints of deep orange to yellow. It makes colours more vivid and gives a deep blue sky when you put your back to the sun.

Photo by Diane B

The light can be directed in many ways making silhouettes, semi-silhouettes, a progression from light to dark tones, you can sculpture with light and give images depth and drama. It is a fairly soft light but creates long shadows. This light is very versatile for a variety of shots.
Photo by Mitchell K


Be aware that shadows can get in the way, including your own. Move if necessary or use them to create a sense of drama.
This light can cause high contrasts. When the sun is near the frame detail can be lost. Reposition yourself so that the sun comes from the side. Expose for the part getting lost. Use Post processing and HDR.

Photo by Mitchell K

At this time light changes fast you have little time to shoot so be prepared and plan beforehand. When the sun is low it is good for silhouettes. When the sun is higher use progression of light to dark tones. Learn what to expect and be ready to react.

Photo by Mitchell K

Tell a Story with Golden Hour Light. This light is very flexible and allows you to communicate in many ways. It accentuates beauty, uplifts mood and it is dramatic. It can be literal when light illuminates the subject or it can be symbolic with silhouettes.
Photo by Diane B

Diffused Light (Light diffused by clouds)

On an overcast day the light is soft and evenly distributed with no shadows. It is good for soft skin tones. It is less exciting but also less challenging. It can be a weak light that will darken subjects or wash out colour.
To avoid flat and boring images shoot in RAW and use post processing to add impact. Contrast can cause exposure problems. When the sky is white it is easy to over expose. Expose for the darker subject and shoot in RAW and use post processing to adjust the sky.
Photo by Mitchell K

Tell a Story with Diffused Light from Clouds. This light evokes a serious, melancholic, somber mood but you need supporting details for this type of light to have impact. E.g. cloudy, stormy skies, struggle or hardship.

Photo by Mitchell K
 Diffused Light (Light diffused by shade or by being indoors)
When outdoors in the shade of a forest or a mountain shadows are non existent.
Photo by Diane B

When indoors with a narrow light source, shadows can be dramatic. You can sculpture by using light and dark tones.
Photo by Diane B

In darker closed spaces when light is directed onto the subject the colours can appear more vivid because it is surrounded by darkness.

Photo by Mitchell K

The light is not intense and you can get camera shake and blurred movement. Like in twilight use high ISO, fast shutter speed and wide aperture or a tripod. Indoors get the subject closer to the light source. Embrace the blur and make it part of the image.

Photo by Mitchell K

Indoors there might be mixed light sources like a light bulb, and a fireplace. If so it is best to turn off the light and get the subject closer to the natural light.
Photo by Mitchell K

This light produces high contrasts. The subjects near the light are to light those away from the light are too dark. When using light from a window, a gap in the canopy or a hole there will be a complete loss of detail in either the light or the dark parts of the photo.  You can move yourself or the subject. You can accept over exposure of troubled areas.
Photo by Diane B

You can use post processing and HDR.

Reasons for Using Post Processing by Mitchell Kanashkevich.

“Our eyes are capable of perceiving incredible degrees of tones, colors and details. Strong contrasts between light and dark parts of a scene are no hindrance to our visual perception, which performs effortlessly in all but the most extreme situations.
Today’s digital cameras cannot do the tasks our eyesight can, no matter how expensive or advanced they are. In many situations, to even get close to communicating through our photographs what our eyes perceived so easily in life, digital camera users must turn to post-processing (digital manipulation) software. For this simple reason post-processing has come to be considered a vital part of photography for anyone working with the digital medium.
The basic reason for post-processing as it relates to light is to compensate for the camera’s shortcomings in capturing the light’s impact on the subject we frame within the viewfinder. The general description to cover for what we do is to expand the dynamic range of tones and colors beyond what the camera’s capabilities are.”
Photo by Mitchell K

Tell a Story with Diffused Light from Shade or Indoors. This light outdoors creates a neutral, soft mood so the story needs to be told by subject matter rather than light. Action or details are important to the story. Indoors this light can be directed and create dramatic, dynamic or even mysterious shots.
Photo by Mitchell K

It can give a sense of volume, texture, colour and details to make the subject more interesting. Multiple light sources can open up more possibilities highlighting the face and backlight on hair.
Photo by Mitchell K

Harsh Daylight (bright sunny days)

In general photographers don’t like it. However, it can be a powerful tool if you become aware of its characteristics, potential and limitations. It has a neutral effect on colours, the sky loses its blue. It causes deep shadows and strong contrasts especially around people’s eyes. It can be directed by moving the subject or yourself. It can cause skin can appear rough. It can create volume and depth but not as well as diffused light or Golden Hour light.
To avoid shadows on faces you can use a natural reflector from below like sand, snow a page of a book or you can use a specially made reflector. You can move the subject, turn them around. You can be creative and use the shadows to your advantage. You can use post processing to soften shadows.
Photo by Mitchell K

To deal with bleached colours use camera filters or post processing to boost the colours with vibrancy and saturation. Use it to your advantage to portray harsh subject matter.
Photo by Mitchell K

To cope with high contrast that loses detail in the light or dark areas use a neutral density or polarizing filter. Shoot on RAW and use post processing and work with layers and masks or fill light/shadows and recover highlights. Use HDR if the subject is still.
Tell a Story with Harsh Light. Harsh light evokes a harsh mood it is good for stories of hardship. It is good for making textures look rough but it is no good for making people look beautiful.
Photo by Mitchell K

Light in Fog (There are two kinds of fog light. One is heavy cloud and total absence of sun. The other is fog which is close to the ground and with no clouds where the sun can interact with the fog.)

The first kind is non directional with soft contrast. The second kind has stronger contrast an is more directional. Fog causes elements to fade and creates a feeling of layers. It adds to the depth of the photograph. Fog gives tints of grey, blue, orange and yellow.
The problems of low light are the same as with diffused light from clouds and twilight. So use the same techniques as mentioned for them. Silhouettes are a good way to deal with fog.
Photo by Mitchell K

Another problem is exposure. Our eyes see a wider range of contrast than the camera it is easy to assume that what we see will appear in the image. Be careful to get the exposure right. Test exposures and see which looks best. Shoot in RAW and use post processing.
Tell a Story with Light in Fog Fog naturally creates a mood of stillness and quiet. Sun rays can create awe inspiring moods. Focus on shapes not detail. However in thicker fog where there are no shadows it can bring out more detail especially when the subject is close to the camera.
Photo by Mitchell K


Have fun learning to read light and using it as an important tool in photography.
Check out Mitchell Kanashkevich’s web site at: