When you’re starting out with photography it’s easy to get lost in camera settings, menus and megapixels but I promise you the most perfectly exposed, carefully composed image taken on the most megapixels money can buy will fall flat on its face if the light doesn’t work for it.
All light has its unique characteristics which work best for different subjects. The trick is matching the light with the subject you’re shooting. If for example you’ve got amazing light for a landscape it’s quite likely it’ll be rubbish for a portrait and vice versa.
“So where on earth do I begin?” I hear you ask.
The place to start is to learn how to look at light. Yes I know that sounds like an odd thing to say because us humans don’t do that naturally. We only notice how much of it there is and often come to the conclusion that bright is good and dull is bad. But quantity is very different from quality.
Look at Tasha here.
When she’s in lots of strong sunshine there are nasty shadows and she can’t help but squint. One pace to her left put her in shade and what a difference. Yet there is about four times less light in the shade than there is in the sunshine.
Light you find in the shade is called soft light because it softly wraps itself around the subject. Light that comes direct from the sun crashes into the subject causing hard edged shadows and is called hard light.
Think of light as water for a moment. If you hit someone with a direct jet of water (as I did to Lorna in one of our photography videos about light) it’ll be hard.
Put a sprinkler on the end of the hose and the same water becomes much much softer wrapping itself around her.
So does that mean hard light is bad?
Not at all. Harder more angular shapes and strong colours work great in hard light because those very same shadows that looked so bad on Tasha bring out shapes and textures and saturate colours.
These boats were shot early one morning when the sun was coming in sideways from low in the sky. Without the shadows the shapes wouldn’t be so clearly defined.
Learning to look at light:
Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing start looking at what the light is doing. To help you with this ask yourself questions, use your imagination and follow these suggestions.
- Is it sunny or cloudy?
- If it's cloudy - how cloudy?
- Are there any shadows?
- If there are, do they have hard or soft edges?
- How would what I’m seeing look in different light? (hard, soft, coming from above, from the side etc.)
- When you see a breathtaking view, spend a moment looking at the direction of the light, where the shadows and highlights are
- When you see a view that you think ought to be spectacular but it looks dull, do the same.
- When watching a movie, TV or looking at a magazine, bring yourself out of the subject of the image for a moment and ask yourself what kind of light they’re in
This free tip is only a tiny part of the photography training we can give you through our video membership. And as you can see from the video grabs above - we like to have a few laughs along the way.