In my first "Light, Camera!" blog entry, I wanted to explain why I want to have entries devoted to different topics of interest. Over time, I'll speak about aesthetics in "The Bigger Picture"; about great ideas in "Inspirations"; photographic techniques in "Light, Camera!"; and keep you updated with "News", so you know what to look for from my next Studio blog post. I'd like to think that we have something worth sharing with those who are seriously interested in photography. That said, I hope to speak to novices and serious photographers alike -- that is, people who have a passion or simply a curiosity about the art of photography that they wish to explore. People growing, learning, cultivating their interests in the field. So, we'll try to strike a balance between the basics and sprinkle it with some advanced tips. Let's start with the pure fundamentals. From photojournalism to fine art photography, and everything in between, all photos have these things in common: light, lenses, and cameras. Naturally, skill, technique and the mechanical nature of what goes into a photograph and what's important in a great photo all vary greatly. In fact, photography is so ubiquitous that even the most basic phone camera still works with those 3 essentials: light, lenses and cameras. Even the best artistic photographers work with the basics to take great photographs. For now, let's discuss the key element: light. Without it, there's no photography. It's often forgotten as THE most simple and crucial ingredient. No wonder, what with our modern gizmo automatic digital cameras. They help us out with their technology to manage light for photos, but they all still need light to take pictures. Light can be either from an artificial source (flash, strobes, tungsten lamps, etc.), or from natural sources-- most likely the sun. Artificial light is a future "Light, Camera!" posting. Let's talk about the sun in today's post.
The reason why most cameras do reasonably well in regular daylight is because most camera manufacturers build easy-to-use cameras for outdoor photography. Think about it -- it's outside and daytime that most people take photos of their kids, their beach or ski vacations, etc. Manufacturers know this and build settings to help support it. During summer sun or a foggy autumn day, the sun's natural light is the best element for distinct and memorable images. Direct light is when the sun is out and on you, not necessarily during the brightest of blue sky days. In fact, the most common misconception is that you'd have to have a perfect sunny day to take perfect pictures. Actually, while a beautiful blue sky day is like chicken soup for the soul, it poses its own challenges. In fact, the pictures might also turn out too 1950's postcard-like. However, a good photographer does not always require a cloudless day to get enough light and take great shots. The tips below deal with that cloudless sunny day: Tip #1: Choose the right time of day (when possible) The angle of the sun is different depending on the time of day. Noon--when the sun is at its highest point, is a very unflattering light for humans -- the morphology of the face when standing upright causes some VERY unflattering shadows: eye sockets become dark, long shadows under the nose, etc. It's not just noon sun-- even the 3pm sun during the summer solstice has a similar high angle. I'm sure most people have heard of the Golden Hour, and it's called that for a reason. While you don't always need a picture perfect sunset, the later part of the day is the most flattering. Not only because the light comes in at a lower angle, but also, in an urban setting the sun might illuminate the sides of buildings or walls, thus reflecting the light as a soft light source, generating some very beautiful lighting effects.
Tip #2 Late afternoon or first rays? For photographing people, late afternoon tends to be better. As a photographer, you should start taking pictures well before the day is over and figure out the best angles by the time the light is right, which is usually during the last part of the day. Compare that with early morning photography. You are talking about taking the same shots at 5, 6 or 7am depending on the season, and who doesn't have puffy eyes during that time of the day? However, if your field is landscape photography, there is a certain dewy quality in the first sunlight that you don't have during the last part of the day. If you're a National Geographic photographer, you should set your alarm clock to 4am. Tip #3 How to shoot at noon, if you have to. There are situations of course where one has to take pictures at noon. The brunch with your in-laws is happening, well, during brunch time. If it has to be outdoors, try to shoot under foliage or an awning. Anything that blocks the direct sunlight from above should work. However, watch out for the background. If the background is sunlit, it might get too over-exposed.
Tune in next time! "Light, Camera!" is on deck, and I'll continue our light discussion soon before moving on to lenses and cameras. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to future discussions here, or elsewhere online. For the love of photography, -- Christian Oth