Natural light is favoured by many photographers, but why?
Lighting is probably the most important aspect of any art form and you need to understand how light works and how you can manipulate it before you learn composition and how to “see” different images in one scene.
Without light you have nothing unless you add your own. However, if you can see things with the naked eye, you can capture it naturally with your camera one way or another!
The most effective and of course, natural style of photography is using whatever light is available to you. Many wedding photographers now use just natural light for much of the day as this is “how it was” on the day…reportage in other words.
Whenever I approach a scene that I wish to shoot, I first determine where the main source of light or the “key light” is coming from. I then decide what the main subject is that I want to have as the main point of focus and then which angle it is best to shoot it showing the best features and lighting.
If it is say, a statue that is backlit with the front or main part that I want to shoot in deep shadow, I will simply come back when I know the light is hitting it from the side or front on.
If the subject is something that is moving about or with no particular point of main interest (sports etc), I will stand with either the sun behind me or to the side and just shoot away from there…there are no hard and fast rules so just do whatever works best for you.
Note: Side lighting can be much more effective for bringing out details in your subject matter rather than just flat, full frontal lighting.
Also, when looking at a scene I wish to shoot, I always keep my eyes open for any part of the frame that is particularly bright or dark. As mentioned before, this will affect your overall metering and could throw the image out.
You can either move to lose the distraction from the image altogether or throw in some light using flash if the area of distraction is dark. If it is bright, then I would meter for that part and then fire in flash for the rest of the image if possible.
These methods help to “even out” the scene with regards to lighting. Of course, if the image is enhanced by these bright or dark areas, leave them “as is”.
Even if it is a cloudy day, you still need to pay attention to where the sun is because it can also affect the background and how it is lit.
Learn to see things around you as though you are looking through your camera because once again, your camera and your eyes see things differently. Learn to look for bright/dark spots and manoeuvre yourself accordingly. Pay attention to the light around you and how it can change from one minute to the next.
If a scene would be enhanced with a more golden glow (a landscape for example), try shooting it at dusk or dawn…the “golden hours” which are half an hour before to half an hour after sunrise and half an hour before to half an hour after sunset, or make quick and simple adjustments to the white balance as we saw previously. Making the effort will pay dividends.
Here is a fantastic resource for finding out when the golden hours are in your part of the world at any time of year!
Here are a couple of examples of why it would do you well to learn to look for good lighting.
During a very expensive and wealthy wedding in Spain, the light was fading fast during the ceremony and we had a lot of formals to get through. The wedding was held in a wooded part of a garden where light was bad even during the sunshine in the daytime.
When it came to organising everyone for the groups, the light had all but faded but there was still one great big hole in the trees overlooking the swimming pool with just enough light coming through…which also acted like a huge diffuser in the evening light.
I simply positioned the groups where the light hit them and fired away until the light had vanished.
Learn to “see the light” and where it best hits your subject. If it is not important to get the shot there and then…come back at another time or find a more suitable location where the light is more appealing and flattering.
I have used the following images as an example before (for good reason), so you may recognise them if you have been around ATP long enough.
I was shooting some lifestyle stock on a sunny beach in Spain with some friends of ours and we only had time during the day when the sun was fairly strong. I was shooting away as the family walked towards me but the results were not quite what I wanted…
I have learned to always turn around to see what the light is doing behind me in any situation, and in this instance it paid off big time…
The first image has made good sales over the past few years but the second shot has sold around 4,000 times! It is my biggest selling image and has been seen on huge billboards, a Russian magazine and an advert in the New York Times among many others.
If I hadn’t bothered to turn around it would have cost me thousands in revenue!