Lighting, Part One

Yeah, so I don’t know of any way to do this in one blog post, so let’s start and see how far we get before I feel as though I’m overwhelming you.

Light matters. If photography were painting, light would be our paint. It’s how we crate images. The way the light hits a face, the way it sifts through the oak leaves… it is the most important tool you have in your arsenal. Knowing how to capture and use light will make the biggest difference in your photos, and once you master that, you can take great photos with any camera.

Consider how light can hit your subject: from the front, the side, both sides, the back, or even the top.

About light direction:

  • If the light is predominantly behind you, you have front lighting (your subject will be front lit). This allows for evenly lit photos and realistic color but it does also mean you will have to contend with shadows. If you’re outside in the daylight, use your camera’s flash to fill the shadows with light.
  • If the light comes predominantly from the side (one or both), you have side lighting. This allows for better depth with your subject (objects have better dimension in sideline photos). The lower the light source, the better you’ll see texture in the photo. Many photographers consider side lighting the “best” type of lighting, but I believe it depends on what effect you want.
  • If the light comes predominantly from in front of you, you have back lighting (your subject will be front lit). This can be a dramatic effect. In coastal Florida, the best example I can offer is that ubiquitous picture – we all have it – of us (usually as part of a couple) at sunset. The sunset looks gorgeous in the photo but couple at the shoreline is completely in silhouette, which is a nice effect if that’s what you want. Usually we don’t, and I’m not above forcing the flash (yes, at sunset) to get the people out of the darkness.
  • Top lighting (light from above, of course), casts quite a few shadows. This type of light works better when you want a certain effect. For photos of your kids and dogs and flowers, try to avoid harsh noonday (between noon and four in Florida summer) sun. This will vary from season to season and region to region.

A few notes about aperture and shutter:

  • When you change the shutter speed in increments, each increment is called a step
  • When you change the aperture size in increments, each increment is called a stop
  • Although exceptions exist (because otherwise this would be too easy) each stop and stop down/up halves/doubles the previous stop and step.
  • With aperture, “stopping down” means reducing the amount of light hitting your image sensor by going to a smaller aperture opening (remember, that’s a larger number if you can forget you’re dealing with fractions. If that freaks you out, don’t worry about the terminology. You don’t need to know the words, you need to know what to do!)
  • Likewise, “opening up” your aperture means increasing the amount of light hitting your image sensor by going to a larger aperture opening (smaller number or fraction-less DSLR).

About that EV button:

  • You can play with your exposure compensation with this setting. Press the button and turn the dial (as I do on my Nikon D7000) or simply turn the dedicated dial (as I have on my Fuji X-20).
  • The zero represents the default. Dialing up the plus side gives you a brighter exposure; dialing down the negative side, a darker one.
  • Remember, this will lighten or darken the entire frame.

OK, so that’s a lot for those of you just starting to think about light. If you’re in one of my multi-day classes, you’re going to think a whole lot more about light by the time we’re done. It’s OK; it really isn’t hard.

Read Part Two here (there’s a blue mouse and everything)

Questions? Email me or take one of my photo workshops. Head to my home page and look for the list of upcoming classes on the right side of the page.

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