In The Beginning There was Light
Way back when, before the dawn of the digital age and “auto everything” cameras, learning the art of photography was a bit more complex than it is today.
Today’s digital cameras automatically adjust for lots of things you once had to understand and adjust for manually. That’s nice. But there is a downside: When you want to have more control over your photos, you discover you don’t know enough to manipulate your equipment and images.
So, I thought it would be a good idea to start the year off with a few basics. Today I’m going to give you a quick lesson on light…
Without light there is no image (in traditional photography, that is — I’m not referring to infrared, x-ray, or things like that). Photography is based on “capturing” light.
Simply put, exposures are made from light striking the “light-sensitive surface.” This can be achieved in a number of ways — from a simple box with a pinhole in it (a pinhole camera) to the more advanced and elaborate digital cameras on the market today.
Not all light is created equal, however — not in quality, quantity, color, or other attributes. That’s the reason most cameras have an “auto” mode or a program dial that allows you to choose a setting based on light. There are settings for sunshine, clouds, shade, and sometimes for ambient or indoor light.
Each of these modes is designed to respond to a certain quality of light.
Take a look at this picture, for instance…click here
It was submitted for this month’s photo contest, the theme of which is “Blood, Sweat and Tears.”
You can see the difference between the direct sunlight, which is shining in the background, and the shade, which the soccer players are in. Notice that there’s a big difference in the color of the light.
The direct sun is a much warmer light with a color shift more to the yellows and reds. By contrast, the light in the shade is cooler, more cyan, blue, or sometimes green.
Direct sunlight is a harsher light, though, with harder-edged shadows, which is why it’s rarely good for people photos. Shade provides a softer, less-harsh light, and it creates less shadowing under your model’s nose and eyes and is, therefore, better for people shots. (That said, you have to be aware of the color shift in shadow — shade can turn people’s skin strange hues.)
For now, using the shade mode on your camera should help alleviate that.
Sunshine and shade are just two of many kinds of light sources, each with its own characteristics of quality, quantity, color, shadow. This week, begin to pay more attention to the quality of light in your pictures and to the source of light.
Start to identify the characteristics of the light you use most. And then try a few others, experiment a little. If you discover you usually shoot pictures in full sunlight, go out in search of more shade. Take notes about what “works” and what doesn’t, and you’ll begin to understand the dynamics and variations of light, which will have a very positive impact not only on the quality of your photos, but on the speed with which you’re able to react in certain light situations to compensate for — or take smart advantage of — certain lighting.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]