Home / Photography Tips / Understanding Light - an exercise.

Understanding Light - an exercise.

 12th Apr 2012


understanding light

How do you know what light’s appropriate and what’s not? I mean surely light doesn’t make that much difference does it?

Yes it does - and we have two great videos Good Light 1 and Good light 2 where I'll explain and demonstrate this in more detail.

And here’s an exercise from part of one of the videos to help see what I mean. (You can watch me doing it in Good Light 2).

Please take the time to do this because I can tell you how to do things all day long, but you won’t be able to do it yourself unless you practice it ­ possibly several times over. It doesn’t matter what the pictures look like for now, we’re not looking for a masterpiece we’re looking for knowledge because knowledge IS power.

Understanding light will affect your images before you even take them. When you do understand light you’ll always shoot amazing pictures in the right light.

These trees for example look dull and lifeless without the shaft of light on them and I had to wait almost an hour and a half before one came along in just the right place for me to get the shot. With landscape you have to be patient!

OK ­ the exercise. This works best on a bright sunny day preferably mid morning or mid afternoon, not with the sun directly overhead.

  1. Get yourself something small and portable that you can use to support some household items, and arrange them into a still life. A plastic garden table, kitchen stool etc will work fine.
  2. Put together a still life with something translucent or clear, something hard, and something soft with subtle textures. I used a Lily, wine bottle and some pebbles but you could use a child’s doll, a coffee mug and beer bottle for example.
  3. Place the items in the sun and photograph them with the sun coming over one of your shoulders
  4. Turn the still life around so the sun’s behind them and photograph them looking straight into the sun. Be careful with your exposure because the back light might make your camera underexpose. If so you’ll need to over expose until it looks the same as the last shot.
  5. Repeat the process with your items in the shade and you facing into the shade.
  6. Keep the items in the shade but you go behind them and shoot towards the light

Keep a record of which shots were taken in which lighting conditions so that when you compare them you can not only see how the light has affected the way they look, you will know what the light was doing when you took it - ­ direct sun in front, behind, from the side in shade, etc.

Here are some images I took when I did this exercise for one of our Finding Good Light videos. If you’d like to see where and how I did this, click the links to the videos at the top.

understanding sunlight and shade

The first image was taken in direct sunlight coming from behind me - the second was taken in shade. Notice how much nicer the flower looks in the second one.



Image on the left taken in shade with light coming in from the left through an archway. Image on the right also in shade but with light coming from the right and from behind. Look how much more detail there is in the petals, the stones and the rim light around the bottle.

To get beautiful amazing images you have got to understand light and how it works so once again go and have a go at this. If you're not one of our video members already why not join us because this is just a tiny part of the kind of learning we offer.


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