The film or digital sensor in our camera reacts to the light that falls on it to produce an image and we all know how important that light is to photography. Without it there wouldn’t be any. The importance of light is reflected in the fact that it is very large subject with a whole spectrum of issues to consider. This week we will try to shed some illumination on one facet of the topic by focusing on the area of sunlight, how it affects our images at different times of the day, and perhaps come away with a few tips on how we can use this to our advantage.
Most casual photographers (and we have all been casual photographers), at times think something like “Great! It’s a beautiful sunny day, I’m going to get out there and take some nice photos.” Yes, but to the savvy photographer it’s not as simple as that. Exactly when we take advantage of that light can be of vital importance to the look and feel of our pictures.
Many photographers know of the ‘golden hours’ – the first and the last hours of sunlight during the day. During these times the light is soft and warm; giving a rich glow to colors, especially yellows, oranges and reds. It’s a good time to take some cityscape shots for example, with glowing buildings against a darkening sky with long shadows adding a dramatic aspect. It’s also the favorite time for landscape photographers, the morning and evening light giving natural colors a warm and vibrant aspect.
Oddly enough, the middle of the day can often be the most difficult time to take pictures. On a bright and sunny day the light can be very intense and hard; bleaching the color out of our subjects, creating black unsightly shadows and reflecting off lighter colors so much that it is very difficult to control exposure. A fill flash can be very useful during these times if your subject isn’t too far away, and a little bit of shade or cloud cover can also be very welcome to alleviate these problems. However, this situation can be turned to your advantage if you are willing to try your hand at a bit of black & white processing. Look for high contrast. On a bright sunny day dark shadows abound, and can often look very effective in a black & white photo. You might even try looking back in your library for those pics that perhaps looked a bit too bright and harsh, and try looking at them again in black & white.
When you are out there photographing at different times, try to remember what the subject looked like to you and compare that with the images when you get them home. Often an image has surprising colors or looks much more vibrant than we remembered it in real life. We can use this as feedback into our photography in the future if we encounter similar lighting conditions.
However, light is useless of course if we aren’t out there using it. Get up early!
By Aaron Raisey