Photography in 'Bad' Light

7 Building Blocks of Photography 2

There is no good and bad light. There's only light and it's up to use to choose to photograph subjects appropriate for the light available.

When the light is flat and dull we all become flat and dull ourselves. I had very much wanted to make a video about shooting exciting things in a strange city in winter sunshine. And because I happen to be in Reykjavík with a day to spare between Iceland workshops I thought Hallgrímskirkja church and its tower which can be seen from almost everywhere in the city would be perfect.

But the sky is dull, the light is flat and any shots of a big iconic landmark wouldn’t work with this kind of lighting. So what is there to photograph on a dull day? I thought it might be fun to wander down an ordinary street instead and set myself a challenge to see what shots could be found within 200 meters of where I’m staying.

The first thing to think about when shooting in dull light is not to try photographing anything that needs strong sunshine. Big subjects need big light to show off their shapes and colours, which is why I abandoned the church idea.

You must shoot subjects appropriate for the light you have available to you. If you’ve completed my 7 Building Blocks of Photography you’ll be familiar with this concept in Block 2 of the course. If not then maybe you should consider doing it.

If the light is dull, one way to make interesting images is to find something that’s got some colour and pleasing shape to it. And don’t include the sky if there’s no detail to it. Personally I like angles and graphic lines in city images so that’s what I’ve gone for.

When the light is perfect for the subject you can sometimes get away with a composition that’s a bit sloppy because light is king. When the light’s ‘bad’ you have to take more care and think about what needs to be done.

Look all around the viewfinder as you compose an image to make sure everything lines up and is where you want it in the frame. You should be doing this anyway but good clean composition is especially important when you don’t have great light to fall back on.

It’s also important to think about what I call the 8th Building Block of Photography, post production work done in Lightroom or Photoshop. By pre-visualising and planning what you will do in post before you capture, you can maximise an image’s impact to the full.

I’m working on my 8th Block of Photography course which goes deep into pre-visualising and planning for all kinds of situations. It will be completed sometime late in 2015.

View all Videos