Photography in many ways is all about the light. Light is the main ingredient in any photograph. Most times we don’t really think about it but still it’s everywhere around us and changes in color and direction throughout the day. Leading expert photographers to define light as being the only subject in photography.
Can you imagine photography without light? Even if it is the distant stars that you are photographing, light is the quintessential element that helps you achieve it. Without it your frames are just black and blank canvases. As a result of light being indispensable, the photography world tried to analyze and understand it in an attempt to namely reveal its: quality, direction, color and intensity.
The right light, however, often eludes us. Most times our photos turn out less than expected because the right moment had passed by before we could arrive. Professional photographers on the other hand spend a considerable amount of time trying to plan and prepare to be at the right place at the right time. The right time in this case is ostensibly related with catching the right light.
So, What Is The Right Light?
Before we dive head first into a discussion of the right light let’s understand what quality of light is. For all conceivable reasons an understanding of the quality of light will invariably lead to an understanding of what is the right light for photography.
Light quality depends on two things, the size of the light source when compared to the subject and the angle of the light source at which that light comes from. Let’s take an example. A large window with abundant natural light coming through it will be termed as a soft light source. Why? Because the window is larger compared to the subject being photographed (let’s consider that you are photographing a person). Light in such a situation tends to wrap around the subject. The effect is soft and uniform.
Now, consider that the subject is further away from the window, towards the center of the room. The quality of the light will dramatically change now. You will notice that the side of the subject’s face pointing at the window is properly illuminated while the side facing away is in the dark. In other words this is a contrasting lighting situation. But why this happened? The light source remained the same and so did everything else? Well almost everything. What changed is the distance between the subject and the light source. So, here’s the third reason for light quality to change. Distance.
I mentioned about the size of the light source. It is an important consideration because larger the light source softer is the quality. In the above example the light source remained the same. But the relative size became smaller as the distance between the two increased. It made the light source appear smaller. This is the same reason why the sun being such a giant ball of light is actually a small light source and produces harsh light at most times of the day.
So which is the right time of the day to shoot?
Golden hour is by far the best time if you are a natural light photographer. It is the half an hour before & after sunrise and sunset. This of course depends on the latitude you are in and the time of the year. Golden light is softer than the mid-day light and produces a wrapping effect that is similar to using a softbox. Personally, golden light suits most of my shooting requirements, except may be food photography which I always do when the light is stronger. If you love portrait photography you’ve got to try shooting during the golden hour. It is one time of the day when your subject could very well be looking in the direction of the sun and the images will still turn out great. It has very smoothing effect on the skin turning it very soft in your photos.
Another time of the day, which I would only recommend if you are using external lights such as flashes, is the blue hour. The blue hour comes immediately after the golden hour. It is the time when the sun has set but there is still some twilight in the sky. Additionally, the color of the sky is blue rather than black which makes it that much more interesting.
The trick for shooting at the blue hour is to ensure that you always expose for the background. exposing for the background means you set the light meter on your camera so it takes reading from the light in your background and then the camera adjusts the exposure settings accordingly. If you meter for the subject’s face the background will always be over exposed when the shot is taken. Same goes if you try metering for the sky.
I would recommend using the spot metering mode for such a situation. The spot metering mode allows you to sample a small portion of the background. Point it to something that is neutral or grey. Meter for it. Then recompose after dialing in those exposure settings manually. Focus for the subject and take the shot. The light should fire in about the same power as the ambient light. If the result is too bright, you can stop down the light by one stop and then retake the shot.
Now it’s your turn, try shooting during golden and blue hours and share with us your photos.
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