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Complete photography guide



■ How to control and enhance natural light ■ Creative ways to shoot with flash ■ Simple techniques for spectacular results



Light Many photographers just starting out tend to think of the role of light only in terms of exposure. But ďŹ nding the best light and learning how to control it can have a huge effect on the emotional impact of your images. This book will arm you with the knowledge and techniques you need to really begin mastering light.





Contents ■ Light’s character


■ Chasing the light


■ Improving the quality


■ Master of light: Charlie Waite


■ Fill-in with flash


■ Master of light: Chris Johns


■ Dealing with low light


■ Light on the landscape


■ Master of light: George D. Lepp


■ Top 10 tips




Start painting with light O

ur three previous photography guides have covered composition, exposure and colour – now it’s time to look at the element which is the key influence for all three aspects. As a photographer, you need to learn to love light, appreciate its endless subtleties and try to make the most of its mood swings. Soon you’ll feel your heart race a little faster as the black clouds of a passing storm tear apart and rich, golden light burns through to transform even the most mundane scene (just don’t forget to carry your camera at all times – you’ll kick yourself if you miss capturing such an event). Don’t pull your hair out if the light isn’t ‘right’ though. You just need to learn a few tricks that can help you rescue the situation – this book will show you them. We’ll give you ideas for taming harsh light, show you how to make the most of falling light levels and how to use flash in understated ways. We don’t cover studio lighting in this book – that will come later. Instead, we focus on natural light – how to capture it, how to enhance and how to use it in great new ways.

Marcus Hawkins Editor, Digital Camera Magazine





Light’s character Y

ou really begin to grow as a photographer when you start being able to read the different characteristics of light and are able to adjust your shooting accordingly. Where photography’s concerned, there are four elements of light that you need to be able to recognise: its quality, colour, intensity and direction. You can control each of them to a certain degree, whether it’s through a shift in camera position, the use of light modifiers or during image processing.



Quality of light

Colour of light

You can judge the quality of light by the shadows it creates. Hard lighting – from the sun on a cloudless summer’s day or an undiffused flashgun – creates inky, sharp-edged shadows and hot highlights. Your camera will struggle to maintain detail in both, and compromises might have to be taken. Soft light – early morning, late evening, a cloudy day, a misty day – reduces the contrast between light and dark and produces soft-edged shadows in which detail’s still visible. It’s ideal for portraits, close-ups and revealing the glorious colours of autumn. You can improve the quality of light to some degree on a small scale using diffusors, reflectors, fill-flash and the like (you’ll find tips and techniques for doing just that throughout this guide), but there’s very little you can do other than wait for the very best light when you’re shooting landscapes.

We covered the colour of light comprehensively in the previous guide, but it’s such an important ingredient for creating images with emotional impact that we couldn’t leave it out here. In general, ‘warmer’ pictures produce a more pleasurable viewing experience. ‘Colder’ pictures can leave use feeling exactly that. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest elements of light to ‘correct’. You can change your camera’s white balance setting to enhance or reduce the warmth of a scene. You can place colour correction filters in front of your lens – blue to cool down a scene, amber to warm it up. Or you can simply wait until you’re back home editing your images on your computer before you start changing the colour balance of your picture.

The sun rising or setting creates long shadows – plan for them when you compose an image. Here, an ordinary location’s been transformed by the play of light and shadow, creating a simple, powerful photograph.



Intensity of light

Direction of light

Perhaps not as important in enhancing the mood of a shot as the other characteristics of light, intensity, or brightness has a crucial role to play in terms of exposure. The more light there is available, the smaller your aperture can be and yet still retain action-stopping shutter speeds. Your ISO can also be set lower – so there’s the potential to create a higher quality image. The more intense and hard the light is, though, the more chance there is of highlights getting ‘blown’ in a digital image. Check your camera’s histogram – an image on an LCD monitor might seem brighter or darker than it actually is.

Light can illuminate your subject from three basic directions – front, side and back. Each brings its own unique feel to a picture. Backlighting, for instance, can be used to provide a ‘halo’ around a portrait sitter. It provides mood, drama and visual interest. It brings foliage to life and gives water an edge. The only thing to watch out for is direct light striking the front of the lens. This produces flare, which reduces contrast. You might find a lens hood – particularly on a wideangle lens – doesn’t always prevent flare. In these instances, move a piece of card or your hand close to the front of the lens to shade it from the light (just be sure that it doesn’t appear in the frame). Sidelighting is great for bringing out the texture in a landscape. It reveals shape and form and gives pictures depth. Frontlighting is good for close-up portraits, particularly of birds and animals. It might not have the impact of backlighting or sidelighting, but don’t limit yourself just to these.

Backlighting can enhance mood. This shot wouldn’t be as atmospheric if shot from the other side of the subject, with full frontlighting.

Early morning light is usually less intense than that of the sun at midday. You’ll need to work with wider apertures in order to freeze movement.





Chasing the light O

nce you start getting a feel for light, you’ll search out the times of day where the quality of light is generally at its best – at the start and end of the day during the ‘golden hours’. The sun’s rays have to pass through more of the atmosphere during sunrise and sunset. This filters out more of the wavelengths at the blue end of the colour spectrum, leaving us to see wavelengths at the warmer end. This is why the light has a ‘colder’ quality at midday, when the sun is directly overhead and passing through a much thinner part of the atmosphere. A sunset tends to produce a richer, warmer image than a sunrise because atmospheric pollution’s built up throughout the day, scattering the light still further. Sunsets and sunrises are probably the most cliched photographic subjects known to man – but don’t resist capturing a truly breathtaking one when the moment presents itself.

You sunset shots don’t have to be cliched skyscapes – try incorporating the orb in unusual ways… 14


Get there early Many photographers prefer shooting at dawn – that way they’re not fighting against falling light levels as they would be at the end of the day. Lakes and rivers also tend to be more still at this time of the day – perfect for capturing reflections. Early morning light can have more of a sharper, clearer quality than at sunset – and shadows tend to creep on you rather fast at the end of the day. For those of us holding down a day job, it’s unlikely that we can escape work commitments to catch the sunset on a regular basis – but getting up early and getting out before the sun rises can be an option. You need to make sure you’re in position and ready to start shooting before the sun actually clips the horizon though, as the ‘magic’ light only lasts for a few minutes. Don’t include the sun’s bright orb in your frame when you’re metering – it’s likely to cause severe underexposure in your shot. Instead, take a spot meter reading from a bright area of sky, lock the reading in and recompose with the sun back in the frame. Bracket exposures at +/- 0.5EV around this initial exposure.



Improving the quality D

o you want hard or soft light? Both types have their purpose in photography. If it’s striking, graphic shots with black, hard-edged shadows you want, seek out raw, hard light – when the sun’s high in a clear sky or you’re shooting with on-camera flash. Chances are, though, that you’ll want soft, diffused light more often than not. On a bright, cloudy day, the sky acts like a giant softbox. You’ll have a much easier time metering for a scene as the contrast will have been reduced – no deep shadows or bright highlights to try and rectify later on your computer. You’ll be able to reveal much finer detail, and colour appears more saturated.

Soften hard light The reason hard lights are exactly that, is because they’re a point-source of light relative to the size of the subject of your photograph, resulting in unbalanced exposures. The sun’s big, but so far away that, on a cloudless day it too becomes a small, harsh light source. But it can be softened to produce a much more flattering result. Commercial diffusion panels are available – thin pieces of semitransparent material which, when held between the sun and the subject, spread and soften the light, removing glaring highlights and opening up the detail in shadows. Try using a sheet of tracing paper for macro subjects. When you’re working with small subjects using a macro lens, a flashgun held close to them effectively becomes a large softbox relative to their size (particularly when it’s fitted with its own diffusor)..

Close-up shots such as this collection of autumn leaves always benefit from soft, diffused light – although when water drops are present, experiment with sidelighting…



Use a reflector Diffusors are particularly suited to closerup and macro work, as there’ll be room to place them between the light source and the subject without them appearing in the frame. If you’re dealing with a larger subject, particularly outdoors, you’ll probably want to reach for a flashgun or a reflector. Reflectors provide the more natural-looking results of the two (they only make use of the ambient light, after all) and they’re much easier to use – you can see results ‘live’ (no need to take a test shot, check the camera’s LCD monitor and adjust output, as you’ll more than likely have to do with flash). You can use small reflectors to bounce light precisely where you want it, or use a large one to fill in detail on a much grander scale.



Reflector options There are many commercially available reflectors, ranging in size, colour and price – a simple 12” one is likely to set you back around £10, while something in the region of 6’x4’ is unlikely to leave you with much change from £100. Despite their cost, these types of reflectors have several advantages. They’re hard-wearing and portable, with the circular collapsible variety folding up into something approaching a quarter of their full size. They’re also available in double-sided variations, the classic combination being white on one side, gold on the other. White retains the colour of the natural light, while the likes of silver, gold and varying combinations of both all add their own particular colour. Silver can bring a fresh sparkle to a picture, particularly a portrait, while gold can warm up skin tones well. Just don’t overdo the gold – try using it when shooting on a beach, as that’s where viewers would expect to see golden light reflected by the sand…



There’s no need to spend a fortune If you can’t afford a good quality reflector, or you simply want to supplement your current set-up, why not make your own? The simplest sort is a sheet of plain white card. This will provide a soft, even illumination for the surface you’re bouncing light onto. For a sharper, cleaner quality to the light, reach for aluminium foil. Simply crinkle it up into a ball, uncrinkle it, and stick it to a piece of card. If you don’t make the surface wrinkled, you’ll end up with a big, hard slice of reflected light that feels ‘artificial’ to the viewer. This might be exactly the effect you’re after though. A small mirror provides an even more crisp, directional source of bounced light – it can be useful for isolating details in a graphic way in a large shot, or for really adding punch to a macro shot.

Find a natural reflector If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have a reflector close to hand, look for an alternative source of reflected light. An open book or newspaper positioned close to the face of a sitter can make a simple alternative. If you’re on a beach, get your subject close to the sand, which bounces back a surprising amount of light (if you can find a white beach towel, even better). The cold light reflected by snow in winter can provide excellent fill light, while the rippling surface of a river, stream or pool, full of catchlights on a sunny day, provides a beautiful quality of illumination. Be aware of your camera reading for bright backgrounds though – it could be fooled into underexposing the scene. It’s better to get in close to your subject and take a reading from them directly. Remember to increase the exposure for pale skin and decrease it for dark skin.



How to brighten up a face A portrait shoot’s the classic situation for using a reflector, particularly when it’s outdoors on a clear, bright day where, if you can’t find an area of shade in which your subject can stand, you’ll have to deal with high contrast lighting. The golden rule is don’t position your subject where they face directly into bright sunlight – they’ll end up squinting, which isn’t flattering. Instead, pose them so that the light’s coming from over their shoulder or from an angle to the side and use a reflector to bounce light back into the darker areas. Your subject will thank you if

you can get rid of any ugly shadowing on their face. Areas to pay particular attention to are around the eyes and nose and under the chin. Wrinkles and ‘imperfect’ skin will also be exaggerated by strong sidelighting – placing a reflector close to the opposite side of the subject’s face will remove even the smallest shadows. A reflector placed low will also bounce light under the brims of caps and hats – you risk burning out the detail in well lit areas of a subject wearing headgear if you simply try to increase the exposure to open up the shadows instead. On a bright

Take advantage of natural reflectors. A white door (offcamera) was used for the left shot, and a pale floor and book in this one.



day, you’ll be surprised how much light can be directed back onto your subject using even the simplest reflector. Don’t be afraid to use more than one either (try one angled to each side, plus one below the subject) – but ensure you don’t cause your sitter to squint by bouncing sunlight straight into their eyes. As well as providing a more flattering illumination, the increase in light levels also means you can take advantage of higher shutter speeds, and consequently smaller apertures. The result? Portraits with a deeper field of focus, sharp from nose-tip to ear.



Master of light Charlie Waite


harlie is the most admired landscape photographer in Britain today. His mastery of light and composition is clear from every one of his exquisite frames. The name of the photographic holiday workshop company he set up 11 years ago – Light & Land – fits like a glove. He hasn’t always been a professional landscape photographer though. Originally an actor, he began taking pictures of other actors and theatrical productions in 1977. Just four years later he was commissioned to provide all the images for the National Trust book of Long Walks. Since then, there have been over twenty books featuring his stunning images, numerous exhibitions and tours all over the world. Everyone who wants to know how to lift their landscape images above the norm needs a copy of Charlie’s ‘The Making of Landscape Photographs’ in their book collection.



This photograph of the River Esera, Huesca, Spain was exposed at ISO 50, for 1/8th sec at f/16. Charlie attached two filters – a polariser and 81A warm-up – to the wideangle lens on his trusted Hasselblad. The contrast of light and shadow gives this shot a real threedimensional quality. Taken as the sun was setting, Charlie had to race against time – in a matter of minutes there would be no light in the left of the frame, the bushes there would lose their glow, and the whole composition would have lost its balance.

To learn more about Charlie Waite, pay a visit to Light


Fill-in with flash A

lthough it doesn’t soften the quality of harsh midday light, a burst of fill flash can open up shadows to provide a more pleasing, balanced exposure. The key to making naturallooking shots is to ensure the fill-in light is subtle. You don’t want the artificial light to overpower the natural light – it shouldn’t be obvious that you’ve used it. The idea is to expose for the highlights – if there’s time, switch to spotmetering for precise measurement, but be aware of the tone of the area you’re metering from (you’ll need to add a little more exposure if the subject’s lighter than mid-tone, for instance). You then let the flash pop some life back into the dark areas. Today’s flashes are generally very advanced with effective automatic fill-in modes. However, for the most part they tend to produce an obviously ‘flashed’ look, with shadows brought up to a similar exposure level as the lighter areas. Try reducing the output further for a more natural result…

The first of these shots was taken without any fill-in flash. The image is dull. The second shot shows what happens when you shoot in automatic fill-flash mode – the shadows have been brought up to a similar level as the lighter areas. It looks a bit ‘hot’



Set up a test

In this shot, we reduced the normal flash output by 1.7EV. This has provided a subtle amount of fill-in light. Shadows have been retained, but there’s detail in them

It’s worth doing your own run of test shots to begin understanding how your flash will react in different lighting situations. First, get hold of a white subject, a dark subject and mid-tone subject (visit your local toy shop and pick up some soft toys – they’re ideal). Head outside on a clear day, position each one in turn within flash range and fire off a set of frames, changing the flash exposure each time (make sure you allow time for your flash to fully recharge between shots). Start with a regular flash exposure, then decrease its output gradually over the next four or five frames, until you reach -2EV. Do this for each of the three subjects, making sure the ambient lighting conditions are consistent throughout. You can then simply look at the shots on your computer to determine what atio of fill-in flash you prefer for that given lighting condition.



Shoot into the sun Automatic balanced fill-in modes on flashes come into their own when you’re shooting into the sun. Here, you don’t want the fill-in light to be too subtle, or you’ll end up with an underexposed main subject. A well-balanced flash-lit portrait taken against a clear blue sky can look stunning, for instance. It’s also worth seeking out a situation where you can isolate a backlit person against a shadowy area – their rimlit hair and skin will appear to glow against the dark background (be wary of the camera being tricked into overexposure by such a backdrop), while the burst of flash brings the exposure on the face and body in shadow back to the correct level. To achieve more of a surreal quality in an outdoor shot, try underexposing the ambient light (spot meter a mid-tone in the background and reduce the exposure by 0.7EV to 1EV as starting point). This will make your flash-exposed foreground subject ‘pop’ from its surroundings..

The combination of lighting from two directions lifts this shot. Watch out for overexposure on pale skin tones when the sitter’s wearing black clothes. 26


Boost an interior The main problem you’ll encounter when it comes to shooting interior shots is the mixture of light that’s usually present. Depending on the location, you could end up with fluorescent, tungsten, daylight and flash providing an ‘intriguing’ mix of green, orange and blue light (depending on your selection of white balance). You might like this effect though. There again, you might want to produce a more natural blend of flash-lit foreground subject and a background lit by tungsten or fluorescent lighting. In this case, you’ll need to place a strip of orange warming gel (for tungsten) or green gel (for fluorescent) over your flash. You can then select the matched white balance preset on the camera and both light sources will be ‘corrected’ at the same time.

To help flash blend in well with such a ‘warm’ scene, place a piece of orange colour-correcting film over the front of it. Any white balance adjustments will then affect the whole image. Light


Master of light Chris Johns


hris is the new editor of National Geographic magazine, but before he joined the management team there he spent 17 years as a contributing photographer, specialising in dramatic images of the natural world. He’s well known for his images of Africa, and in particular those taken at low light levels, where he frequently mixed ambient light with flash. Although to the untrained eye it’s hard to tell in the final photographs, because he did so in subtle ways, mounting an amber filter in a soft box to blend the flash with the warm glow of a fire when shooting local villagers for instance. He also used the low light of evening and dawn to introduce a sense of movement, combining slow shutter speeds with a burst of flash, to retain sharpness in key areas. Chris has a new challenge at National Geographic. He’s the editor who’ll guide the magazine into the digital age. We’ll be keeping a keen eye on the results…



Here’s a fantastic shot of Bushman tribespeople in Namibia, gathering by the fire for a night of ritual dancing. The image feels alive. It’s full of contrasts – cool blue sky and warm firelight; blurred motion and frozen fragments.

Look for more of Chris Johns’ work at www. Light


Dealing with low light W

hen light levels start to fall, don’t feel you have to immediately start charging up your flash – it has the potential to really spoil the mood of a shot. Pick the right subject and get creative, and you’ll be able to continue taking photos using natural light for longer than you might imagine. Experiment with increasing the exposure level of a shot made at low ambient light levels, to restore its brightness (be wary of LCD monitors which make the image appear brighter than it actually is – always check the histogram). Increase the saturation of the colours to make a scene come alive. Stop down the aperture to induce slow shutter speeds and capture movement as a blur.



Shoot a silhouette There are two key things you need to think about when trying to shoot a silhouette – where you’re going to meter from and where you’re going to position your subject. First up, switch your camera’s exposure mode to Manual, or be prepared to make use of its AE Lock feature when you’re in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. Make sure your metering pattern’s set to Spot (Multi-segment metering patterns will generally attempt to increase the exposure and bring detail back into the subject you’re trying to render as a silhouette). Take a reading from an area of the sky which seems fairly light in tone (try near the horizon), then open up 1EV from that reading, to make it a little brighter than mid-tone. Following that, all you’ve got to do is position your camera so that the subjects you’ll be capturing as silhouettes aren’t merging or obscuring each other – the most successful shots work because the individual shapes are distinct.



Slow it down There’ll be times when the light levels drop so low that you’ve got no option but to work with really slow shutter speeds, even when you’re shooting at your lens’ widest aperture. Not a problem if your camera’s mounted to a sturdy tripod and you’re shooting scenes where there’s no movement. But when things are moving? Time to get creative, opting for those ‘artistic’ studies of motion and colour. Mount your camera on a tripod to ensure it’s rock-steady throughout those long exposure times. Make sure you include a combination of stationary and moving objects to provide the contrast that makes pictures come alive. Try panning with the movement – and keep at least one part of a subject reasonable sharp and discernable in the blurred area to provide a place for your viewers to jump in (and out) of the image. Watch your distance though – subjects closer to the lens will require a faster shutter speed to freeze some of their motion



Add slow sync flash Although a burst of flash can ruin some shots taken in low light levels – resulting in the classic underexposed background and rabbitcaught-in-the-headlights look of a subject within the range of your flash – once it’s married to a slow sync mode, it can provide an incredibly atmospheric exposure. This mode allows the natural light to register an exposure on your camera’s sensor – including any blurred movement – along with a moment frozen in time by the burst of flash.

Once you discover how slow sync mode can transform your photography, it’s sure to become the flash mode you’ll reach for more than any other. Some flashes can drop below their sync speed (usually 1/60 sec) as a default, others you’ll have to manually set to slow sync – you need to read your manual to know how your flash will react. If your flash unit – either a built-in one or external dedicated one – has a rear curtain sync mode, it’s worth combining this with slow sync to allow the blurred image

captured by the slow shutter speed to trail behind the sharp image frozen by the flash. Your subject will appear to move backwards if you don’t. The only problem with this mode is that it becomes harder to capture the peak of the action – particularly if you’re panning with a moving subject. You won’t be able to see through the viewfinder while the shutter’s open during the long exposure, so it’s hard to judge where your subject will be when the flash is triggered. It becomes a case of biting the bullet – shoot lots of frames.



Candlelight and firelight The glow of a flame gives you a soft, warm light which is perfect for creating atmospheric portraits. If you’re photographing someone by candlelight, be sure to include all or part of the flame in the picture – that way it won’t look like a white balance ‘error’ on your behalf. If shooting a portrait by candlelight, you’ll need to increase the ISO to 800 or 1600 and open the aperture wide to get a fast enough shutter speed to stop any subject movement. Mount your camera on a tripod to prevent camera shake as well. The key is not to trust your meter in this situation. If you’ve got a large area of darkness in the frame it could fool your camera into increasing the exposure. Instead, move in close to your sitter and take a meter reading off their face – once you’ve positioned the candle in such a way that it’s not causing ugly shadowing across their features. Be careful not to block any of the candlelight hitting them or take a reading from an area in shadow. Adjust the exposure according to the sitter’s skin tone (open up for lighter skin, close down for darker skin) and recompose your shot. When shooting fires, it can create an interesting effect if you select a small aperture and slow shutter speed (work in Aperture priority to let the camera select a corresponding shutter speed). This will introduce movement and blur to the flames, while the logs or coals underneath remain still. Remember to mount your camera on a tripod…

Cheer up, son! At least he’s adopted a pose that he can hold for a long period of time – photography by candlelight means slow exposures, even with wide-open apertures. 34




Light on the landscape I

f you want to capture the spirit of a landscape, you’re going to have to wait for the ‘right light’. Unlike close-up work, where you can control and manipulate the light to suit the subject, there’s no way you can control the lighting over the large area of land. You need to be prepared to wait – and you might well find that your most meaningful shots are taken when every other photographer has packed up and gone home. While the sun’s low on the horizon, its raking light causes long, deep shadows to reach out over the land. Unlike a portrait, where you’re usually working to remove shadows, it’s the play of light and dark caused by strong sidelighting which adds texture and form to landscapes.

Add depth Just like placing contrasting shapes, colours and sizes of subjects in the same frame can yield some of the most exciting photographs, so to will the inclusion of contrasting light. It can help give your landscape photographs an effective sense of depth – to give the 2D image captured on your camera’s sensor a three dimensional quality. Think in terms of contrasting bright against dark, light against shadow – building up layers which lead you through a picture. A well lit foreground subject set against a dark, brooding background can create an air of tension. Imagine beyond that dark area is another band of hills, spotlit by the sun, and beyond that still, hills in shadow. It’s this process of layering the light that leads your eye easily though a picture.



Look for landscapes scarred by ridges and grooves to make the most of rich, warm sidelighting.

Look for balance With strong sidelighting, as exhibited in this picture here, you need to pay careful consideration to the composition. The deep shadows created can overwhelm a shot if they’re not balanced well with brighter areas of an image. Cover up the small, bright area of rock on the bottom-left of this shot with your thumb – does the composition look better with it in place, or when it’s removed? Is it a distraction, or does it help balance the area in shadow with the bright strip on the horizon? You’ll need to make these decisions quickly – light of this quality doesn’t tend to last long.



Light up the city Don’t simply head for the country or coast when great light’s available. Cityscapes can prove immensely rewarding to shoot during the morning or evening. Look for the low sidelighting and long shadows to give structures shape and form at this time of day. Isolate details with a medium telephoto zoom (something which a maximum reach of around 200mm should meet most needs when mounted on cameras with a 1.6 crop factor). Find windows reflecting the cooler sky contrasting against brickwork bathed in the sun’s warm light. In this shot, shadows become the driving compositional element. We spot-metered off the brickwork in sunlight, rotated the camera to find a dynamic angle and zoomed in to exclude distracting elements (lamposts, mainly).



The trouble with sidelighting We’ve seen that sidelighting provides excellent modelling for landscapes and buildings. The only problem is, if you shoot these scenes using a multi-segment or centreweighted metering pattern, all those shadows are likely to fool your camera into overexposing – it will try to make the dark shadows closer to mid-tone in value. This results in any brighter areas of the scene picked out by the sun becoming grossly overexposed and losing all detail. Take this series of shots above. The first one was shot using multi-segment metering in Aperture priority, with no adjustment to the metered value (1/160 at f/9). The rocks

on the right side of the image are burnt out where the camera’s given more exposure bias to the shadowed area. We reduced the exposure by 0.7EV for the second shot. Again, the large rock at the base of the steps is too ‘hot’. Reducing the exposure by a total of 1.3EV for the third shot has ensured the rocks have now returned to a brightness level which matches the way the scene appeared to our eyes. The third image provides a more usable start-point for imageprocessing, although the second one would likely provide a better result if you print directly from the camera. For more exposure solutions, see our previous guide, Master Exposure.



Capture the elements

Look for quite moments

If it’s raining heavily, angle yourself towards the light – backlighting makes raindrops sparkle. Offset them against a dark background to maximise the effect. If you want to freeze the drops, select a shutter speed of around 1/125 sec or faster – opt for 1/60 sec or slower to render them as streaks of light. As with most ‘action’ shots, it’s best to fire off several frames in quick succession, then check the LCD monitor to judge the best arrangement of drops/lines.

While backlighting can be loud and attentiongrabbing, it can also be used in more subtle ways. Take this coastal shot, for instance. It’s backlit, although there’s no rimlighting or glow. Instead, the overcast day has created the perfect light for this striking graphic image. It would lose its power if there was any more discernable detail in the silhouetted rocks. If it was shot on a bright day, the focus of the picture would be more on the image in the background. As it is, the strength of the shot comes from the whole, rather than the individual parts.





Shoot water Seek out rivers, streams, lakes and pools when shooting landscapes. They bring the land to life.

A polarizer will help reduce glaring surface reflections on the water on a sunny day. But on a gloomy day, it’s those very highlights that you’re trying to preserve, in order to add interest.



Invest in a neutral density graduated filter. The reflection will be darker than the sky – an ND grad will help you balance the exposure. Avoid over-filtering though – start with a 1-stop grad.



Be persistent

Take away the colour

Don’t resist returning to a promising photographic location over time in order to capture the scene under different lighting conditions. Seasonally, the light will be drastically different, but it also changes on a much smaller scale. What is in sunlight in the morning could well be in shadow by the afternoon. Over just half an hour at dawn or dusk, the quality and colour of light can vary dramatically. Find the view that pleases you most and stick with it – and don’t be satisfied with the first frame you make.

You’ll begin getting a bigger appreciation of the role light plays in photography if you start seeing the world in black and white. Without the distraction of colour, you’ll begin to gain a deeper understanding of how light, shadow and composition are the building blocks of the most successful photographs. Continue to take images as colour ones in-camera, but convert them to black and white on your computer later (then you’ve always got the option of returning to the colour original). Identify what it is that you like about the way the light and shadow work together in your best images, then try using that knowledge on an entirely different subject.





Master of light George D. Lepp


ne of the most prolific phographers in the United States, George Lepp has been capturiing breathtaking images with his camera and lecturing on photographic techniques for over three decades. He specialises in photography of the natural world and has been at the forefront of the digital revolution – he’s the founder and director of the Lepp Institute of Digital Imaging in California, where interested parties can learn about digital capture, image-editing and printing. He’s one of Canon’s ‘Explorers of Light’, a group of 60 world-class photographers who share their knowledge and passion for photography through seminars and personal appearances. They also get to use the latest Canon EOS kit.



Trying to select an image which typifies George’s approach to capturing light is a hard process – a man who’s been a top-class image maker for over 30 years tends to build up a vast collection of stunning photographs. But this leapt out at us. It just screams LIGHT!

See more of George’s impressive images at Light





Light Top 10 tips... RISE EARLY, STAY LATE The golden hours around dawn and dusk are when the light tends to be the most exciting.

BRING OUT COLOURS Shoot saturated colours such as autumn foliage on an overcast or cloudy-bright day.

USE REFLECTORS You’ll get more natural results if you use a reflector to fill-in detail, rather than reaching for a flashgun.

WATCH YOUR METER Your camera can be fooled by unusual lighting conditions. Spot meter for total control.

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KEEP SILHOUETTES SIMPLE Make sure you retain the distinctive shape of a subject – don’t let it bleed into other silhouettes.

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ADD LIGHT IN FOG When shooting mist or fog, increase your exposure by 1EV to bring back the brightness.

ADD FLASH SUBTLY Avoid the ‘overflashed’ look – reduce your flash output when shooting in daylight.

GO SLOW When shooting in low light, combine a slow shutter speed with a burst of flash for interesting results.

AVOID FLARE Shield the front element of your lens with your hand when shooting into the sun.

BE PERSISTENT Inspiring views deserve inspiring light – don’t be satisfied until you get it.



Digital Camera World - Complete Photography Guide - Mastering Light