Seeing the Light

All photographs need light, that’s obvious. But just as all photographers are not created equal,
neither is all light the same. Some of the types of light include: Natural light (the sun), fluorescent
light (overhead lighting), incandescent light (light bulb), Electronic light (Flash), Reflective light
(off of water or snow), Bounce light (off a ceiling or wall).

Photographers like Ansel Adams or Edward Weston have been known to wait for hours or even days,
until the light was just right. What makes the light just right? What was it they were waiting for? They
were waiting for “the right moment” that brief instant in time when all the elements and principles of design, happen at the same instant. As far as light is concerned, it must compliment your subject. It
must enhance the natural beauty, not distract. It must be one with the subject. Before I start sounding
too much like a Zen Buddhist Monk, let me give you some examples:

Most photographers when shooting outdoors prefer early morning or just before dusk in the evening.
The most obvious reason is that light is not as harsh. If you are trying to create the mood of a beautiful sexy model, you don’t want dark shadows that make her nose look like a small mountain peak. Likewise you want to be able to see her big beautiful eyes, not have her squinting so she looks like she’s in pain.

On the other hand, say you are trying to shoot an advertisement for some new sports drink. The
harsh sun glistening off, beads of sweat of a prominent athlete; may be exactly what you want. Does
that kind of make you thirsty? Good. That was the idea.

Reflections off a pond or lake are much more pleasing to the eye if it is overcast. A twinkle in the eye
is usually a quick bright light source at a slight angle from the subject. Red eyes are caused by a light source that is directly lined up with the subject’s eyes. (The light you see as “red eye” is nothing more than a reflection off the back of the eye.) The best way to avoid it is to move slightly up or slightly
down in relation to your subject.

Most indoor lighting will change the color of your film (unless you use a flash.) Florescent lights will
cast a blue- green (cool) color across the image. Incandescent lights will cast a yellow-orange (warm) color across the image. That doesn’t mean the light is wrong, if you choose the right subject. If you
are shooting fish in a fish tank, a blue green tint might actually improve the over all image. A nursing
child might benefit from the warm feelings of incandescent light.

Electronic flash is balanced for daylight, which means it’s the same as having the sun in your pocket.
You bring your light source with you. A flash can help good shots, look great. A flash can fill in harsh shadows. A flash can stop motion. A flash can allow you to take shots that your naked eye can not see.
A flash can become addictive, but remember it also has some negatives points. Red eye, washed out subjects, backgrounds that go totally black are some problems created by flash. Don’t get me wrong,
I love using flash, but to be fair, it CAN make things worse. Try bouncing your flash off a wall or ceiling for a more natural looking effect.

Your job as the photographer is to be aware of all these different types of light and know how they will affect your subject. When you use a fill flash outdoors with someone wearing a baseball cap you will actually be able to see their face. Others who think: “Oh, there’s plenty of light” will get really dark shadows and wonder why yours look so good. Anyone can rush out and buy a camera but remember;
the camera is only a tool, the light is what makes it just right.