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TAKE DRAMATIC PHOTOS USING OUR EXPERT TIPS
■ How to control and enhance natural light ■ Creative ways to shoot with ﬂash ■ Simple techniques for spectacular results
VITAL SKILLS GUIDE
Many photographers just starting out tend to think of the role of light only in terms of exposure. But ﬁnding the best light and learning how to control it can have a huge effect on the emotional impact of your images. This book will arm you with the knowledge and techniques you need to really begin mastering light.
TAKE DRAMATIC PHOTOS USING OUR EXPERT TIPS
■ Light’s character ■ Chasing the light ■ Improving the quality ■ Master of light: Charlie Waite ■ Fill-in with ﬂash ■ Master of light: Chris Johns ■ Dealing with low light ■ Light on the landscape ■ Master of light: George D. Lepp ■ Top 10 tips p10 p14 p16 p22 p24 p28 p30 p36 p46 p49
Start painting with light
ur three previous photography guides have covered composition, exposure and colour – now it’s time to look at the element which is the key inﬂuence for all three aspects. As a photographer, you need to learn to love light, appreciate its endless subtleties and try to make the most of its mood swings. Soon you’ll feel your heart race a little faster as the black clouds of a passing storm tear apart and rich, golden light burns through to transform even the most mundane scene (just don’t forget to carry your camera at all times – you’ll kick yourself if you miss capturing such an event). Don’t pull your hair out if the light isn’t ‘right’ though. You just need to learn a few tricks that can help you rescue the situation – this book will show you them. We’ll give you ideas for taming harsh light, show you how to make the most of falling light levels and how to use ﬂash in understated ways. We don’t cover studio lighting in this book – that will come later. Instead, we focus on natural light – how to capture it, how to enhance and how to use it in great new ways.
Editor, Digital Camera Magazine
ou really begin to grow as a photographer when you start being able to read the different characteristics of light and are able to adjust your shooting accordingly. Where photography’s concerned, there are four elements of light that you need to be able to recognise: its quality, colour, intensity and direction. You can control each of them to a certain degree, whether it’s through a shift in camera position, the use of light modiﬁers or during image processing.
Quality of light
You can judge the quality of light by the shadows it creates. Hard lighting – from the sun on a cloudless summer’s day or an undiffused ﬂashgun – creates inky, sharp-edged shadows and hot highlights. Your camera will struggle to maintain detail in both, and compromises might have to be taken. Soft light – early morning, late evening, a cloudy day, a misty day – reduces the contrast between light and dark and produces soft-edged shadows in which detail’s still visible. It’s ideal for portraits, close-ups and revealing the glorious colours of autumn. You can improve the quality of light to some degree on a small scale using diffusors, reﬂectors, ﬁll-ﬂash and the like (you’ll ﬁnd tips and techniques for doing just that throughout this guide), but there’s very little you can do other than wait for the very best light when you’re shooting landscapes.
Colour of light
We covered the colour of light comprehensively in the previous guide, but it’s such an important ingredient for creating images with emotional impact that we couldn’t leave it out here. In general, ‘warmer’ pictures produce a more pleasurable viewing experience. ‘Colder’ pictures can leave use feeling exactly that. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest elements of light to ‘correct’. You can change your camera’s white balance setting to enhance or reduce the warmth of a scene. You can place colour correction ﬁlters in front of your lens – blue to cool down a scene, amber to warm it up. Or you can simply wait until you’re back home editing your images on your computer before you start changing the colour balance of your picture.
The sun rising or setting creates long shadows – plan for them when you compose an image. Here, an ordinary location’s been transformed by the play of light and shadow, creating a simple, powerful photograph.
Intensity of light
Perhaps not as important in enhancing the mood of a shot as the other characteristics of light, intensity, or brightness has a crucial role to play in terms of exposure. The more light there is available, the smaller your aperture can be and yet still retain action-stopping shutter speeds. Your ISO can also be set lower – so there’s the potential to create a higher quality image. The more intense and hard the light is, though, the more chance there is of highlights getting ‘blown’ in a digital image. Check your camera’s histogram – an image on an LCD monitor might seem brighter or darker than it actually is.
Direction of light
Light can illuminate your subject from three basic directions – front, side and back. Each brings its own unique feel to a picture. Backlighting, for instance, can be used to provide a ‘halo’ around a portrait sitter. It provides mood, drama and visual interest. It brings foliage to life and gives water an edge. The only thing to watch out for is direct light striking the front of the lens. This produces ﬂare, which reduces contrast. You might ﬁnd a lens hood – particularly on a wideangle lens – doesn’t always prevent ﬂare. In these instances, move a piece of card or your hand close to the front of the lens to shade it from the light (just be sure that it doesn’t appear in the frame). Sidelighting is great for bringing out the texture in a landscape. It reveals shape and form and gives pictures depth. Frontlighting is good for close-up portraits, particularly of birds and animals. It might not have the impact of backlighting or sidelighting, but don’t limit yourself just to these.
Backlighting can enhance mood. This shot wouldn’t be as atmospheric if shot from the other side of the subject, with full frontlighting.
Early morning light is usually less intense than that of the sun at midday. You’ll need to work with wider apertures in order to freeze movement.
Chasing the light
nce you start getting a feel for light, you’ll search out the times of day where the quality of light is generally at its best – at the start and end of the day during the ‘golden hours’. The sun’s rays have to pass through more of the atmosphere during sunrise and sunset. This ﬁlters out more of the wavelengths at the blue end of the colour spectrum, leaving us to see wavelengths at the warmer end. This is why the light has a ‘colder’ quality at midday, when the sun is directly overhead and passing through a much thinner part of the atmosphere. A sunset tends to produce a richer, warmer image than a sunrise because atmospheric pollution’s built up throughout the day, scattering the light still further. Sunsets and sunrises are probably the most cliched photographic subjects known to man – but don’t resist capturing a truly breathtaking one when the moment presents itself.
You sunset shots don’t have to be cliched skyscapes – try incorporating the orb in unusual ways…
Get there early
Many photographers prefer shooting at dawn – that way they’re not ﬁghting against falling light levels as they would be at the end of the day. Lakes and rivers also tend to be more still at this time of the day – perfect for capturing reﬂections. Early morning light can have more of a sharper, clearer quality than at sunset – and shadows tend to creep on you rather fast at the end of the day. For those of us holding down a day job, it’s unlikely that we can escape work commitments to catch the sunset on a regular basis – but getting up early and getting out before the sun rises can be an option. You need to make sure you’re in position and ready to start shooting before the sun actually clips the horizon though, as the ‘magic’ light only lasts for a few minutes. Don’t include the sun’s bright orb in your frame when you’re metering – it’s likely to cause severe underexposure in your shot. Instead, take a spot meter reading from a bright area of sky, lock the reading in and recompose with the sun back in the frame. Bracket exposures at +/- 0.5EV around this initial exposure.
Improving the quality
o you want hard or soft light? Both types have their purpose in photography. If it’s striking, graphic shots with black, hard-edged shadows you want, seek out raw, hard light – when the sun’s high in a clear sky or you’re shooting with on-camera ﬂash. Chances are, though, that you’ll want soft, diffused light more often than not. On a bright, cloudy day, the sky acts like a giant softbox. You’ll have a much easier time metering for a scene as the contrast will have been reduced – no deep shadows or bright highlights to try and rectify later on your computer. You’ll be able to reveal much ﬁner detail, and colour appears more saturated.
Soften hard light
The reason hard lights are exactly that, is because they’re a point-source of light relative to the size of the subject of your photograph, resulting in unbalanced exposures. The sun’s big, but so far away that, on a cloudless day it too becomes a small, harsh light source. But it can be softened to produce a much more ﬂattering result. Commercial diffusion panels are available – thin pieces of semitransparent material which, when held between the sun and the subject, spread and soften the light, removing glaring highlights and opening up the detail in shadows. Try using a sheet of tracing paper for macro subjects. When you’re working with small subjects using a macro lens, a ﬂashgun held close to them effectively becomes a large softbox relative to their size (particularly when it’s ﬁtted with its own diffusor)..
Close-up shots such as this collection of autumn leaves always beneﬁt from soft, diffused light – although when water drops are present, experiment with sidelighting…
Use a reﬂector
Diffusors are particularly suited to closerup and macro work, as there’ll be room to place them between the light source and the subject without them appearing in the frame. If you’re dealing with a larger subject, particularly outdoors, you’ll probably want to reach for a ﬂashgun or a reﬂector. Reﬂectors provide the more natural-looking results of the two (they only make use of the ambient light, after all) and they’re much easier to use – you can see results ‘live’ (no need to take a test shot, check the camera’s LCD monitor and adjust output, as you’ll more than likely have to do with ﬂash). You can use small reﬂectors to bounce light precisely where you want it, or use a large one to ﬁll in detail on a much grander scale.
There are many commercially available reﬂectors, ranging in size, colour and price – a simple 12” one is likely to set you back around £10, while something in the region of 6’x4’ is unlikely to leave you with much change from £100. Despite their cost, these types of reﬂectors have several advantages. They’re hard-wearing and portable, with the circular collapsible variety folding up into something approaching a quarter of their full size. They’re also available in double-sided variations, the classic combination being white on one side, gold on the other. White retains the colour of the natural light, while the likes of silver, gold and varying combinations of both all add their own particular colour. Silver can bring a fresh sparkle to a picture, particularly a portrait, while gold can warm up skin tones well. Just don’t overdo the gold – try using it when shooting on a beach, as that’s where viewers would expect to see golden light reﬂected by the sand…
There’s no need to spend a fortune
If you can’t afford a good quality reﬂector, or you simply want to supplement your current set-up, why not make your own? The simplest sort is a sheet of plain white card. This will provide a soft, even illumination for the surface you’re bouncing light onto. For a sharper, cleaner quality to the light, reach for aluminium foil. Simply crinkle it up into a ball, uncrinkle it, and stick it to a piece of card. If you don’t make the surface wrinkled, you’ll end up with a big, hard slice of reﬂected light that feels ‘artiﬁcial’ to the viewer. This might be exactly the effect you’re after though. A small mirror provides an even more crisp, directional source of bounced light – it can be useful for isolating details in a graphic way in a large shot, or for really adding punch to a macro shot.
Find a natural reﬂector
If you ﬁnd yourself in a situation where you don’t have a reﬂector close to hand, look for an alternative source of reﬂected light. An open book or newspaper positioned close to the face of a sitter can make a simple alternative. If you’re on a beach, get your subject close to the sand, which bounces back a surprising amount of light (if you can ﬁnd a white beach towel, even better). The cold light reﬂected by snow in winter can provide excellent ﬁll light, while the rippling surface of a river, stream or pool, full of catchlights on a sunny day, provides a beautiful quality of illumination. Be aware of your camera reading for bright backgrounds though – it could be fooled into underexposing the scene. It’s better to get in close to your subject and take a reading from them directly. Remember to increase the exposure for pale skin and decrease it for dark skin.
How to brighten up a face
A portrait shoot’s the classic situation for using a reﬂector, particularly when it’s outdoors on a clear, bright day where, if you can’t ﬁnd an area of shade in which your subject can stand, you’ll have to deal with high contrast lighting. The golden rule is don’t position your subject where they face directly into bright sunlight – they’ll end up squinting, which isn’t ﬂattering. Instead, pose them so that the light’s coming from over their shoulder or from an angle to the side and use a reﬂector to bounce light back into the darker areas. Your subject will thank you if
you can get rid of any ugly shadowing on their face. Areas to pay particular attention to are around the eyes and nose and under the chin. Wrinkles and ‘imperfect’ skin will also be exaggerated by strong sidelighting – placing a reﬂector close to the opposite side of the subject’s face will remove even the smallest shadows. A reﬂector placed low will also bounce light under the brims of caps and hats – you risk burning out the detail in well lit areas of a subject wearing headgear if you simply try to increase the exposure to open up the shadows instead. On a bright
day, you’ll be surprised how much light can be directed back onto your subject using even the simplest reﬂector. Don’t be afraid to use more than one either (try one angled to each side, plus one below the subject) – but ensure you don’t cause your sitter to squint by bouncing sunlight straight into their eyes. As well as providing a more ﬂattering illumination, the increase in light levels also means you can take advantage of higher shutter speeds, and consequently smaller apertures. The result? Portraits with a deeper ﬁeld of focus, sharp from nose-tip to ear.
Take advantage of natural reﬂectors. A white door (offcamera) was used for the left shot, and a pale ﬂoor and book in this one.
Master of light
harlie is the most admired landscape photographer in Britain today. His mastery of light and composition is clear from every one of his exquisite frames. The name of the photographic holiday workshop company he set up 11 years ago – Light & Land – ﬁts like a glove. He hasn’t always been a professional landscape photographer though. Originally an actor, he began taking pictures of other actors and theatrical productions in 1977. Just four years later he was commissioned to provide all the images for the National Trust book of Long Walks. Since then, there have been over twenty books featuring his stunning images, numerous exhibitions and tours all over the world. Everyone who wants to know how to lift their landscape images above the norm needs a copy of Charlie’s ‘The Making of Landscape Photographs’ in their book collection.
This photograph of the River Esera, Huesca, Spain was exposed at ISO 50, for 1/8th sec at f/16. Charlie attached two ﬁlters – a polariser and 81A warm-up – to the wideangle lens on his trusted Hasselblad. The contrast of light and shadow gives this shot a real threedimensional quality. Taken as the sun was setting, Charlie had to race against time – in a matter of minutes there would be no light in the left of the frame, the bushes there would lose their glow, and the whole composition would have lost its balance.
To learn more about Charlie Waite, pay a visit to charliewaite.com.
Fill-in with ﬂash
lthough it doesn’t soften the quality of harsh midday light, a burst of ﬁll ﬂash can open up shadows to provide a more pleasing, balanced exposure. The key to making naturallooking shots is to ensure the ﬁll-in light is subtle. You don’t want the artiﬁcial light to overpower the natural light – it shouldn’t be obvious that you’ve used it. The idea is to expose for the highlights – if there’s time, switch to spotmetering for precise measurement, but be aware of the tone of the area you’re metering from (you’ll need to add a little more exposure if the subject’s lighter than mid-tone, for instance). You then let the ﬂash pop some life back into the dark areas. Today’s ﬂashes are generally very advanced with effective automatic ﬁll-in modes. However, for the most part they tend to produce an obviously ‘ﬂashed’ look, with shadows brought up to a similar exposure level as the lighter areas. Try reducing the output further for a more natural result…
The ﬁrst of these shots was taken without any ﬁll-in ﬂash. The image is dull. The second shot shows what happens when you shoot in automatic ﬁll-ﬂash mode – the shadows have been brought up to a similar level as the lighter areas. It looks a bit ‘hot’
Set up a test
It’s worth doing your own run of test shots to begin understanding how your ﬂash will react in different lighting situations. First, get hold of a white subject, a dark subject and mid-tone subject (visit your local toy shop and pick up some soft toys – they’re ideal). Head outside on a clear day, position each one in turn within ﬂash range and ﬁre off a set of frames, changing the ﬂash exposure each time (make sure you allow time for your ﬂash to fully recharge between shots). Start with a regular ﬂash exposure, then decrease its output gradually over the next four or ﬁve frames, until you reach -2EV. Do this for each of the three subjects, making sure the ambient lighting conditions are consistent throughout. You can then simply look at the shots on your computer to determine what atio of ﬁll-in ﬂash you prefer for that given lighting condition.
In this shot, we reduced the normal ﬂash output by 1.7EV. This has provided a subtle amount of ﬁll-in light. Shadows have been retained, but there’s detail in them
Shoot into the sun
Automatic balanced ﬁll-in modes on ﬂashes come into their own when you’re shooting into the sun. Here, you don’t want the ﬁll-in light to be too subtle, or you’ll end up with an underexposed main subject. A well-balanced ﬂash-lit portrait taken against a clear blue sky can look stunning, for instance. It’s also worth seeking out a situation where you can isolate a backlit person against a shadowy area – their rimlit hair and skin will appear to glow against the dark background (be wary of the camera being tricked into overexposure by such a backdrop), while the burst of ﬂash brings the exposure on the face and body in shadow back to the correct level. To achieve more of a surreal quality in an outdoor shot, try underexposing the ambient light (spot meter a mid-tone in the background and reduce the exposure by 0.7EV to 1EV as starting point). This will make your ﬂash-exposed foreground subject ‘pop’ from its surroundings..
The combination of lighting from two directions lifts this shot. Watch out for overexposure on pale skin tones when the sitter’s wearing black clothes.
Boost an interior
The main problem you’ll encounter when it comes to shooting interior shots is the mixture of light that’s usually present. Depending on the location, you could end up with ﬂuorescent, tungsten, daylight and ﬂash providing an ‘intriguing’ mix of green, orange and blue light (depending on your selection of white balance). You might like this effect though. There again, you might want to produce a more natural blend of ﬂash-lit foreground subject and a background lit by tungsten or ﬂuorescent lighting. In this case, you’ll need to place a strip of orange warming gel (for tungsten) or green gel (for ﬂuorescent) over your ﬂash. You can then select the matched white balance preset on the camera and both light sources will be ‘corrected’ at the same time.
To help ﬂash blend in well with such a ‘warm’ scene, place a piece of orange colour-correcting ﬁlm over the front of it. Any white balance adjustments will then affect the whole image.
Master of light
hris is the new editor of National Geographic magazine, but before he joined the management team there he spent 17 years as a contributing photographer, specialising in dramatic images of the natural world. He’s well known for his images of Africa, and in particular those taken at low light levels, where he frequently mixed ambient light with ﬂash. Although to the untrained eye it’s hard to tell in the ﬁnal photographs, because he did so in subtle ways, mounting an amber ﬁlter in a soft box to blend the ﬂash with the warm glow of a ﬁre when shooting local villagers for instance. He also used the low light of evening and dawn to introduce a sense of movement, combining slow shutter speeds with a burst of ﬂash, to retain sharpness in key areas. Chris has a new challenge at National Geographic. He’s the editor who’ll guide the magazine into the digital age. We’ll be keeping a keen eye on the results…
Here’s a fantastic shot of Bushman tribespeople in Namibia, gathering by the ﬁre for a night of ritual dancing. The image feels alive. It’s full of contrasts – cool blue sky and warm ﬁrelight; blurred motion and frozen fragments.
Look for more of Chris Johns’ work at www. nationalgeographic.com.
Dealing with low light
hen light levels start to fall, don’t feel you have to immediately start charging up your ﬂash – it has the potential to really spoil the mood of a shot. Pick the right subject and get creative, and you’ll be able to continue taking photos using natural light for longer than you might imagine. Experiment with increasing the exposure level of a shot made at low ambient light levels, to restore its brightness (be wary of LCD monitors which make the image appear brighter than it actually is – always check the histogram). Increase the saturation of the colours to make a scene come alive. Stop down the aperture to induce slow shutter speeds and capture movement as a blur.
Shoot a silhouette
There are two key things you need to think about when trying to shoot a silhouette – where you’re going to meter from and where you’re going to position your subject. First up, switch your camera’s exposure mode to Manual, or be prepared to make use of its AE Lock feature when you’re in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. Make sure your metering pattern’s set to Spot (Multi-segment metering patterns will generally attempt to increase the exposure and bring detail back into the subject you’re trying to render as a silhouette). Take a reading from an area of the sky which seems fairly light in tone (try near the horizon), then open up 1EV from that reading, to make it a little brighter than mid-tone. Following that, all you’ve got to do is position your camera so that the subjects you’ll be capturing as silhouettes aren’t merging or obscuring each other – the most successful shots work because the individual shapes are distinct.
Slow it down
There’ll be times when the light levels drop so low that you’ve got no option but to work with really slow shutter speeds, even when you’re shooting at your lens’ widest aperture. Not a problem if your camera’s mounted to a sturdy tripod and you’re shooting scenes where there’s no movement. But when things are moving? Time to get creative, opting for those ‘artistic’ studies of motion and colour. Mount your camera on a tripod to ensure it’s rock-steady throughout those long exposure times. Make sure you include a combination of stationary and moving objects to provide the contrast that makes pictures come alive. Try panning with the movement – and keep at least one part of a subject reasonable sharp and discernable in the blurred area to provide a place for your viewers to jump in (and out) of the image. Watch your distance though – subjects closer to the lens will require a faster shutter speed to freeze some of their motion
Add slow sync ﬂash
Although a burst of ﬂash can ruin some shots taken in low light levels – resulting in the classic underexposed background and rabbitcaught-in-the-headlights look of a subject within the range of your ﬂash – once it’s married to a slow sync mode, it can provide an incredibly atmospheric exposure. This mode allows the natural light to register an exposure on your camera’s sensor – including any blurred movement – along with a moment frozen in time by the burst of ﬂash.
Once you discover how slow sync mode can transform your photography, it’s sure to become the ﬂash mode you’ll reach for more than any other. Some ﬂashes can drop below their sync speed (usually 1/60 sec) as a default, others you’ll have to manually set to slow sync – you need to read your manual to know how your ﬂash will react. If your ﬂash unit – either a built-in one or external dedicated one – has a rear curtain sync mode, it’s worth combining this with slow sync to allow the blurred image
captured by the slow shutter speed to trail behind the sharp image frozen by the ﬂash. Your subject will appear to move backwards if you don’t. The only problem with this mode is that it becomes harder to capture the peak of the action – particularly if you’re panning with a moving subject. You won’t be able to see through the viewﬁnder while the shutter’s open during the long exposure, so it’s hard to judge where your subject will be when the ﬂash is triggered. It becomes a case of biting the bullet – shoot lots of frames.
Candlelight and ﬁrelight
The glow of a ﬂame gives you a soft, warm light which is perfect for creating atmospheric portraits. If you’re photographing someone by candlelight, be sure to include all or part of the ﬂame in the picture – that way it won’t look like a white balance ‘error’ on your behalf. If shooting a portrait by candlelight, you’ll need to increase the ISO to 800 or 1600 and open the aperture wide to get a fast enough shutter speed to stop any subject movement. Mount your camera on a tripod to prevent camera shake as well. The key is not to trust your meter in this situation. If you’ve got a large area of darkness in the frame it could fool your camera into increasing the exposure. Instead, move in close to your sitter and take a meter reading off their face – once you’ve positioned the candle in such a way that it’s not causing ugly shadowing across their features. Be careful not to block any of the candlelight hitting them or take a reading from an area in shadow. Adjust the exposure according to the sitter’s skin tone (open up for lighter skin, close down for darker skin) and recompose your shot. When shooting ﬁres, it can create an interesting effect if you select a small aperture and slow shutter speed (work in Aperture priority to let the camera select a corresponding shutter speed). This will introduce movement and blur to the ﬂames, while the logs or coals underneath remain still. Remember to mount your camera on a tripod…
Cheer up, son! At least he’s adopted a pose that he can hold for a long period of time – photography by candlelight means slow exposures, even with wide-open apertures.
Light on the landscape
f you want to capture the spirit of a landscape, you’re going to have to wait for the ‘right light’. Unlike close-up work, where you can control and manipulate the light to suit the subject, there’s no way you can control the lighting over the large area of land. You need to be prepared to wait – and you might well ﬁnd that your most meaningful shots are taken when every other photographer has packed up and gone home. While the sun’s low on the horizon, its raking light causes long, deep shadows to reach out over the land. Unlike a portrait, where you’re usually working to remove shadows, it’s the play of light and dark caused by strong sidelighting which adds texture and form to landscapes.
Just like placing contrasting shapes, colours and sizes of subjects in the same frame can yield some of the most exciting photographs, so to will the inclusion of contrasting light. It can help give your landscape photographs an effective sense of depth – to give the 2D image captured on your camera’s sensor a three dimensional quality. Think in terms of contrasting bright against dark, light against shadow – building up layers which lead you through a picture. A well lit foreground subject set against a dark, brooding background can create an air of tension. Imagine beyond that dark area is another band of hills, spotlit by the sun, and beyond that still, hills in shadow. It’s this process of layering the light that leads your eye easily though a picture.
Look for landscapes scarred by ridges and grooves to make the most of rich, warm sidelighting.
Look for balance
With strong sidelighting, as exhibited in this picture here, you need to pay careful consideration to the composition. The deep shadows created can overwhelm a shot if they’re not balanced well with brighter areas of an image. Cover up the small, bright area of rock on the bottom-left of this shot with your thumb – does the composition look better with it in place, or when it’s removed? Is it a distraction, or does it help balance the area in shadow with the bright strip on the horizon? You’ll need to make these decisions quickly – light of this quality doesn’t tend to last long.
Light up the city
Don’t simply head for the country or coast when great light’s available. Cityscapes can prove immensely rewarding to shoot during the morning or evening. Look for the low sidelighting and long shadows to give structures shape and form at this time of day. Isolate details with a medium telephoto zoom (something which a maximum reach of around 200mm should meet most needs when mounted on cameras with a 1.6 crop factor). Find windows reﬂecting the cooler sky contrasting against brickwork bathed in the sun’s warm light. In this shot, shadows become the driving compositional element. We spot-metered off the brickwork in sunlight, rotated the camera to ﬁnd a dynamic angle and zoomed in to exclude distracting elements (lamposts, mainly).
The trouble with sidelighting
We’ve seen that sidelighting provides excellent modelling for landscapes and buildings. The only problem is, if you shoot these scenes using a multi-segment or centreweighted metering pattern, all those shadows are likely to fool your camera into overexposing – it will try to make the dark shadows closer to mid-tone in value. This results in any brighter areas of the scene picked out by the sun becoming grossly overexposed and losing all detail. Take this series of shots above. The ﬁrst one was shot using multi-segment metering in Aperture priority, with no adjustment to the metered value (1/160 at f/9). The rocks
on the right side of the image are burnt out where the camera’s given more exposure bias to the shadowed area. We reduced the exposure by 0.7EV for the second shot. Again, the large rock at the base of the steps is too ‘hot’. Reducing the exposure by a total of 1.3EV for the third shot has ensured the rocks have now returned to a brightness level which matches the way the scene appeared to our eyes. The third image provides a more usable start-point for imageprocessing, although the second one would likely provide a better result if you print directly from the camera. For more exposure solutions, see our previous guide, Master Exposure.
Capture the elements
If it’s raining heavily, angle yourself towards the light – backlighting makes raindrops sparkle. Offset them against a dark background to maximise the effect. If you want to freeze the drops, select a shutter speed of around 1/125 sec or faster – opt for 1/60 sec or slower to render them as streaks of light. As with most ‘action’ shots, it’s best to ﬁre off several frames in quick succession, then check the LCD monitor to judge the best arrangement of drops/lines.
Look for quite moments
While backlighting can be loud and attentiongrabbing, it can also be used in more subtle ways. Take this coastal shot, for instance. It’s backlit, although there’s no rimlighting or glow. Instead, the overcast day has created the perfect light for this striking graphic image. It would lose its power if there was any more discernable detail in the silhouetted rocks. If it was shot on a bright day, the focus of the picture would be more on the image in the background. As it is, the strength of the shot comes from the whole, rather than the individual parts.
Seek out rivers, streams, lakes and pools when shooting landscapes. They bring the land to life.
A polarizer will help reduce glaring surface reﬂections on the water on a sunny day. But on a gloomy day, it’s those very highlights that you’re trying to preserve, in order to add interest.
Invest in a neutral density graduated ﬁlter. The reﬂection will be darker than the sky – an ND grad will help you balance the exposure. Avoid over-ﬁltering though – start with a 1-stop grad.
Don’t resist returning to a promising photographic location over time in order to capture the scene under different lighting conditions. Seasonally, the light will be drastically different, but it also changes on a much smaller scale. What is in sunlight in the morning could well be in shadow by the afternoon. Over just half an hour at dawn or dusk, the quality and colour of light can vary dramatically. Find the view that pleases you most and stick with it – and don’t be satisﬁed with the ﬁrst frame you make.
Take away the colour
You’ll begin getting a bigger appreciation of the role light plays in photography if you start seeing the world in black and white. Without the distraction of colour, you’ll begin to gain a deeper understanding of how light, shadow and composition are the building blocks of the most successful photographs. Continue to take images as colour ones in-camera, but convert them to black and white on your computer later (then you’ve always got the option of returning to the colour original). Identify what it is that you like about the way the light and shadow work together in your best images, then try using that knowledge on an entirely different subject.
Master of light
George D. Lepp
ne of the most proliﬁc phographers in the United States, George Lepp has been capturiing breathtaking images with his camera and lecturing on photographic techniques for over three decades. He specialises in photography of the natural world and has been at the forefront of the digital revolution – he’s the founder and director of the Lepp Institute of Digital Imaging in California, where interested parties can learn about digital capture, image-editing and printing. He’s one of Canon’s ‘Explorers of Light’, a group of 60 world-class photographers who share their knowledge and passion for photography through seminars and personal appearances. They also get to use the latest Canon EOS kit.
Trying to select an image which typiﬁes George’s approach to capturing light is a hard process – a man who’s been a top-class image maker for over 30 years tends to build up a vast collection of stunning photographs. But this leapt out at us. It just screams LIGHT!
See more of George’s impressive images at lepphoto.com.
Light Top 10 tips...
RISE EARLY, STAY LATE The golden hours around dawn and dusk are when the light tends to be the most exciting.
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BRING OUT COLOURS Shoot saturated colours such as autumn foliage on an overcast or cloudy-bright day.
USE REFLECTORS You’ll get more natural results if you use a reﬂector to ﬁll-in detail, rather than reaching for a ﬂashgun.
KEEP SILHOUETTES SIMPLE Make sure you retain the distinctive shape of a subject – don’t let it bleed into other silhouettes.
ADD FLASH SUBTLY Avoid the ‘overﬂashed’ look – reduce your ﬂash output when shooting in daylight. AVOID FLARE Shield the front element of your lens with your hand when shooting into the sun.
GO SLOW When shooting in low light, combine a slow shutter speed with a burst of ﬂash for interesting results. BE PERSISTENT Inspiring views deserve inspiring light – don’t be satisﬁed until you get it.
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WATCH YOUR METER Your camera can be fooled by unusual lighting conditions. Spot meter for total control. ADD LIGHT IN FOG When shooting mist or fog, increase your exposure by 1EV to bring back the brightness.