I have seen it happen so many times. An otherwise amazing image ruined by one simple mistake. It’s a mistake that so many beginning photographers make. Luckily, it’s one that can easily be corrected.
Of course, I’m talking about light. Light can either be a photographer’s best friend or their worst enemy. Paying attention to light, both natural and artificial can improve your photography almost instantly.
The Golden Hour
When working with natural light, or light produced by the sun, there are certain times of day that are better. The type of light you want can also depend on the overall mood of the image.
As a rule, early in the morning and late afternoon are considered to be the best times of day for most photography. This is because the sun is in the optimal space in the sky for the best lighting. During this time of day, the angle of the sun produces softer shadows and contrast is lower.
When the sun is higher in the sky, during the middle of the day, it creates harsher shadows and more contrast. This can lead to issues with overexposed images, or an unflattering image if you are working in portrait photography.
Where’s Your Light At?
Now that you know what time of day to shoot at let’s talk about where to shoot at. More importantly, what direction you should be facing.
Do you think about where the sun is at when you are taking your pictures or do you point and shoot? One of the quickest ways to step up your photo game is to be mindful of where the light is in relation to your subject.
It is important to remember that the direction of light is named by the way in which it hits your subject rather than in relation to your camera.
Backlighting: This is when the light source (the sun in natural lighting) is directly in front of you, hitting your subject from behind. It can sometimes be difficult to find the correct exposure with backlighting.
Front lighting: This is when the light source is directly behind you, hitting your subject head on. At times, it can cause exposure issues and wash out your subject.
Sidelighting: This is when the light source falls onto your subject from one side or another. This casts a longer shadow on one side This type of lighting creates the most dramatic effect when the sun is lower in the sky, casting long deep shadows.
Reflected Lighting: When light is reflected off of one surface, such as water or glass, onto another it creates a soft effect. At times, it can also take on the color, texture, or pattern of the material it is reflecting off of.
Diffused Lighting: On days when the sun is hiding in the clouds the light can create a soft tone in images. This is called diffused light. This type of lighting generally has fewer shadows and contrast than days with brighter more visible sun.
Dramatic Lighting: If you are lucky, you can catch amazing skies when the timing is just right. These often occur before or after a storm. ( Do be careful, though!) These skies can provide for fantastic variations of tones, shadows, and contrast.
Twilight: Just after the sun goes down the lighting provides a rich blend of cool light tones.
Night: Night shots can be some of the most difficult for many photographers. While we don’t have the sun to work with at night, we have a variety of other light sources including streetlights, moonlight, and many others. Long exposures, which are the key to impressive night shots, give us the opportunity for a host of beautiful images.
What’s The Temperature?
Another important concept to understand when working with light and photography is light temperature. In essence, there are warm tones and cool tones. Warm tones tend to give your image deep red and orange hues. Cool tones will give your image beautiful blues and grays.
Knowing the optimal time of day and the right conditions for the light temperature that you want to work in will help you to target the mood that you want for your image. For example, if you want to do a dark, brooding image you would want to shoot during a time that offers cooler tones.
When working with portrait photography, warmer light temperatures are often preferred. However, your personal style will dictate this. One thing about photography and art in general is that rules are meant to be broken. Once you get a basic understanding of how to properly work in different light temperatures you can use this to create a variety of different styles and form your own signature look and feel for your images.
Light temperature is measured in the Kelvin scale. Kelvin is a unit of absolute temperature. It may seem a little opposite at first. Color temperatures over 5000K are considered cool colors ( these include blues, grays, and whites). Colors down around 3000K are considered warmer temperatures (these include yellows, oranges, and reds) Gray is considered neutral in the Kelvin scale. This is why many photographers use a gray card to calibrate their cameras before doing a shoot.
We will talk about color temperatures and how to properly calibrate your camera in a later tutorial. However, as this can be a tricky topic, if you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comments!
Take Your Photography to the Next Level
Are you just starting out with photography? Perhaps you’ve been working with a camera for a while but want to up your game. What are you waiting for?
Join us every Thursday for actionable tips and tricks to take your photography to the next level. As we move from beginner to expert level advice we will also be opening up a weekly photo challenge. We welcome photographers of all levels to submit their work to our weekly challenge via our site, Flickr group, or Instagram. More information on the photo challenge will be released as we get closer to the release date.
Still working on your own photography skills? In the meantime, you may be interested in my post listing the 10 Absolute Best Sites to Get Free Stock Photography to use on your blog or other projects.
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