Learn how different photography lighting impacts your images
Without light you will have no image. Without proper photography lighting the image will not be perfect. Use of light have a major impact on how your images appear. Especially in digital photography the limits are endless because of the better and better digital camera sensors available. In almost any situation there is enough available light to expose the sensor. You might have to use longer exposure time, put the camera on a tripod or even crank up the ISO.
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Quality of the light
Photographers often talk about different types of light or rather qualities of light. By different qualities they mean the light can be soft or flat, direct or indirect as well as the light can come from different directions. The quality of the photography lighting have a big impact on the final image and often is what makes an image good or not so good.
By understanding the nature of the light and by using some basic techniques, you can create very different images. One of the easiest things to change is the direction of the light or light source. In natural light, you can move to get the light in a different angle of the motive. This minor adjustment might change the whole impression of the image.
Alternatively you can move the subject if you are shooting people. In the case you are using movable light sources like flash or studio strobes, you have all options available as the light source itself can be moved where you want them to be.
On an overcast day the light is flat and dull. It seems the light is coming from all directions. You hardly see any the shadow at all. It is easy to believe there is no light in the shadows. In particular in outdoor photography, even if the eye is not able to see the light in the shadows, the camera sensor does. Experienced photographers prefer this type of photography lighting as it is easy to control by adding extra light sources or by reflecting the available light where they want it to fall on the subject.This image from Ringerike, Norway was shot at a very foggy and haze day. The image was taken as the fog was about to disappear and a few streams of light shone through.
Direct and indirect light
Direct light creates strong shadows and contrast. This type of light add drama to the image. Subjects with textures might work better with direct light emphasizing the shadows and contrast.
Indirect or reflected light is softer and don`t give the same strong shadows. Light can be diffused by clouds or reflected by surfaces like walls giving this softer effect. Professional photographers use reflectors to soften up the shadows when shooting portraits. How much the light is softened have a big impact on your final image.
Direction of the light
We normally talk about three directions of photography lighting. The light can be in front of the subject - frontal lighting, behind the subject - back lighting and finally to the side of the subject - side lighting. Each of these types of lighting have a different effect on the image. Outside you most likely have a combination of one or more of the types of light.
One of the most common photography lighting situations is when the light is in the front of the motive. By having the sun behind you when shooting, the light falls directly on the subject ensuring an evenly lit image with strong color saturation. Another advantage is the shadows will be behind the subject giving the maximum details in the scene.
If you are shooting textures and patterns, the lack of shadow will make the image flat without any contrast. By moving slightly you might be able to change the light angle a bit and get the sun over your shoulder instead of directly behind your back. This will improve the image significantly because you add in some shadows giving contrast to the image.
When shooting with frontal light, your cameras automatic metering system is likely to work well compared to the side and back lighting where you most likely have to override the camera settings. A practical problem with frontal lighting is when shooting portraits, the person will have the sun right in the face. This is not a comfortable situation for the subject who is likely to squint and close the eyes.The colors in this image of the boats in the harbor of Bodrum in Turkey is clear due to the direct frontal light.
When the subject is lit from the side it creates patterns of light and shade. Some of the areas are well lit and show good color saturation while other parts in the shadow hide both details and color. This type of images often brings some kind of drama into the scene. The contrast between the lit areas and the shadows reveal a three dimensional form of the subject.
The challenge in side lighting is to find the right balance between the shadow and well lit areas. Often the shadows tend to be to dark and you will loose important shadow details. This is a situation the use of a reflector can help brighten up the shadows by reflecting more of the existing light on the subject - indirect lighting. Another option to help lighting the shadow, is by using a fill in flash.This image of the cat Gunnar was taken with most of the light coming in from his right side. The side light add a special mood to the image.
Shooting with the sun or light source in front of you is often used to create silhouettes. The subject will be almost without any details as they are lost in the shadows. Even the colors in a front lit image are dull. The shape of the subject is the clue with back lighting.
Exposing back lit subjects are challenging as they tend to be underexposed. Even if the subject seems to be in darkness, it still is lit by indirect light reflected from the surroundings. If you expose on the subject (foreground) you can have the subject perfectly lit. The background however in this situation, will be heavily overexposed.
If you shoot such an image, make sure you crop away as much of the overexposed background as possible. Back lighting can be good for portraits as the subject is soft lighted without disturbing shadows. If you want to keep the background properly exposed as well, you can expose for correct background and use a fill in flash to light up the foreground or subject.Without the use of a fill in flash the person in front of Brandenburger Tor in Berlin would have have appeared as a silhouette in this strong front light.
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