Light is the heart of photography. The camera does not see the image. There are no lines, shapes, or textures for it. A film or digital sensor is only susceptible to a stream of photons of higher or lower intensity projected on them by the lens.
Light is much more important than the subject, because, in fact, we are not able to see the object as such, but only see the light reflected from it, which allows us to judge the properties of the object. A novice photographer is looking for a subject to shoot, while an experienced one is hunting for light.
The problem is that both good (from a photographic point of view) and bad light are not always obvious to the untrained eye. Our brain does an incredible job so that we can see the world around us in any light. People are used to this and forget that the camera is much more primitive than our vision, and this must be taken into account when planning a future picture.
The color of this photo is boring and cold. Moreover, it can not be revived by changing the white balance or expocorrection. The blue color of the sky is already insufficiently saturated, and a warmer white balance will completely discolor it; and no amount of exposure correction will reduce the hard contrast between the sky and the edge of the forest.
As soon as we returned to the same place in the evening, the light of the setting sun changed the scene beyond recognition. The foreground warmed, the forest gained volume and detail, and the sky showed its delicate azure hue.
As an artist, you must be able to see light, understand its properties, and clearly imagine how this or that lighting affects the appearance of an object. Light is the tool you need to use to capture the viewer’s gaze and direct it according to your plan, to chain it to the picture and not let it go beyond it.
Quality and quantity
Do not confuse the quality of light with its quantity. A bad photographer is always short of light, meanwhile, bright midday light is often the most boring type of lighting. Not always, but usually. On the contrary, light that is weak in its intensity is often the strongest in its expressiveness and artistic potential. The total amount of light is easy to control by varying the exposure, but the quality of light, which is determined by its direction, concentration, and color, requires much closer attention and thoughtful study.
Light determines the composition
Property of light
Light can be either directed or scattered. This depends on the size of the light source and its distance from the object. I will make a reservation that for the photographer, in principle, it does not matter whether the light from the source is his own light, or whether it is the reflected light of some other source. The sun, moon, sky, snow, white wall, water surface, electronic flash, chrome bumper-these are all light sources.
The larger the source and the closer it is to the object, the softer the light. The smaller the source and the farther away it is, the harder and more contrasting the light is.
If you shoot a portrait in a Studio with a single flash, without reflectors, the light will be extremely harsh: half of the face facing the flash will be dazzlingly bright, while the other half will dissolve into darkness. Put a diffuser on the flash and the light will become soft as you increase the size of the source. Move the flash and lens stand away from the model and the shadows will become sharper, because by increasing the distance to the source, you have reduced its relative, angular size.
The sun is huge, but its light is sharp, because the colossal distance that separates us from the sun makes it almost a point source of light with an angular diameter of only half a degree.
Direct light is light from a source located approximately in line with the optical axis of the lens, so this light is also called axial. The hard straight light used as the main one gives a flat lifeless image – this is the last type of lighting you should use. This light is provided by a camera flash aimed directly at your victim’s face. Images obtained in this way are acceptable as reportage or Protocol, but their artistic value, as a rule, tends to zero. However, direct light can and sometimes should be used for portraits, but it should be done wisely. Use an external flash, placing it above your head so that the light falls on the model from the front and a little from the top, and the light flow itself needs to be softened as much as possible with some modifier-this will allow you to show the face shape in the most delicate way, while hiding the texture and small skin defects. If you shift the flash slightly to the side, the relief will appear stronger, and asymmetrically placed shadows will add dynamism to the image.
Direct light can sometimes be used successfully to shoot landscapes in the morning or in the evening when the low sun is shining from behind your back. The picture may be somewhat flat, but as compensation you get a very low level of contrast, since all black shadows are obscured by objects that cast them. Brightly lit mountains and trees stand out beautifully against the darker sky. The colors are extremely rich and rich.
The side light can be much more expressive than the direct light when used skillfully. The contrast of the image is significantly higher, since the shadows of objects become obvious. As a result, you should be more careful in choosing the correct exposure. Side lighting is ideal when you need to show the terrain and texture. Sand dunes, snow, rocks – these are the items that you should pay attention to first.
Portraits taken in a side light, especially with a single source, are very dramatic, but this light is not suitable for every face. By softening the lighting with a diffuser or reflector, you can give the portrait a slightly calmer, and even somewhere mysterious mood.
Back or contour light is the most difficult type of lighting, but it also allows you to create the most memorable, unusual shots, in which light is not only a visual tool, a tool of the photographer, but also becomes the main actor. The contrast is maximum, and rarely fits within the dynamic range of the camera sensor. The choice of exposure is critical and largely depends on the subject.
When shooting a sunset, it makes sense to expose the lights to show the rich colors of the evening sky. Details in the shadows in this case can be neglected, presenting the foreground objects as expressive silhouettes.
If you are shooting a portrait of a person illuminated from behind, it is wiser to give preference to his face, while overexposed lights will create a beautiful halo, similar to the glowing contour around the person being portrayed. You can also try reducing the contrast by highlighting the object in front with a flash or using a reflector.
If the subject is still, and you are not in a hurry, it is appropriate to make several exposures, separately for lights and shadows, in order to later combine them into a single image (HDR).
The advantage of contour lighting is obvious when shooting transparent objects – dew drops, leaves, frost patterns on the glass, smoke, and many others. By shooting them against the light, you can best show their lightness, transparency, and reveal details that are invisible in direct light.
A lot of problems can be created by a light source that is present directly in the frame. If it is, according to your plan, an integral part of the composition, or it is impossible to get rid of it, well, you will have to accept some inconvenience. If the light source is the sun, try to look at it less through the optical viewfinder – feel sorry for your eyes. Compose the frame quickly, use peripheral vision, or use Live View, if available. Glare is often an unavoidable evil. Their number, color, and intensity depend on the design of the lens, the purity of the front lens, the presence of filters, and the location of the sun in the frame. Adjust the position of the camera and, as a result, the position of the highlights in the future image so that the highlights are placed either in the most artistic way, turning from the lack of a photo into its dignity, or so as to facilitate their subsequent, even partial, removal. If the presence of the sun in the frame is not necessary, try hiding it behind some object. This will solve the problem of glare, as well as reduce the overall contrast of the scene.
Sunset. Glare from the sun.
It often makes sense to use back-side lighting, taking the sun or other bright light source out of the frame. This will allow you to more easily hide from the sun in the shade, or use a lens hood to fight glare, which is useless when the sun shines directly into the lens. Diagonal shadows in rear-side lighting are very helpful in building a strong composition, and in addition you get the opportunity to place the object highlighted from behind on some dark background, which allows you to effectively outline it with a light halo.