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Light Mastering a photographer’s most powerful tool.



by Mitchell Kanashkevich

Written by: Mitchell Kanashkevich Publisher: Darren Rowse Producer: Jasmin Tragas Graphic Design: Naomi Creek Natural Light – Mastering a photographer’s most powerful tool. Version 1.0 ©Copyright 2012 Mitchell Kanashkevich

All photos and illustrations by the author unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without prior written consent from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. You may store the pdf on your computer and backups. You may print one copy of this book for your own personal use. Disclaimer: The information contained in this book is based on the author’s experience, knowledge and opinions. The author and publisher will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information in this book.

Contents Credits and Copyright__________________ 2 A note from Darren Rowse_____________ 4 About the Author______________________ 4 Introduction____________________________ 5 Getting started_________________________ 7 Communicating visually_ _________________ 8 The role of natural light__________________ 9 The power of natural light_______________ 10 Light as a creative tool_ _________________ 11 Adapting to the light____________________ 12 The philosophy behind working with natural light_______________________ 13 Technicalities__________________________ 14 Metering_______________________________ 15 Types of metering modes________________ 16 Metering and exposing__________________ 17 The histogram__________________________ 18 The changing characteristics of natural light_ _________________________ 19 Light quality____________________________ 20 Direction of natural light________________ 21 More on direction of natural light________ 22 A world of possibilities_ _________________ 23 Natural light and color_ _________________ 24

Post-processing and light_ ____________ 25 Reasons for post-processing______________ 26 Common post-processing tools, techniques and their purposes_ __________ 26 Global adjustments_____________________ 27 Local adjustments_______________________ 28 HDR (Hight Dynamic Range) Images______ 30 Pseudo HDR Images_____________________ 31 Quick guide to natural light___________ 32 Twilight________________________________ 33 Magic/golden hour light_________________ 37 Light diffused by clouds_ ________________ 41 Diffused natural light outdoors and indoors_ ___________________________ 44 Harsh daylight__________________________ 48 Light in fog_____________________________ 52 Working with natural light____________ 55 Controlling light’s impact on the scene in front of you________________ 56 Diffusing light__________________________ 57 Directing light__________________________ 58 Multiple light sources_ __________________ 60 Reflecting light_________________________ 61 Dealing with natural light’s dynamic nature_ ________________________________ 62 Dealing with elusive light________________ 64

Case studies___________________________ 66 1: Silhouettes over water at sunset_ ______ 67 2: Light beams and multiple light sources______________________________ 70 3: Elusive light and the magic dust cloud___ 73 4: Communicating hardship with harsh light_ __________________________ 76 5: Accentuating the beauty of everyday life through the color-and-light-show of twilight_ __________________________ 79 6: Everyday scenes with diffused, sculpting light________________________ 82 7: Dramatic interplay of shadows in a landscape________________________ 85 8: Atmospheric natural light as the driving force behind the photo_ _______ 88 9: Creating a sense of drama with a reflector and an iPhone______________ 91 Ten Tips on natural light_ _____________ 94 Closing words_________________________ 95 Share the Love________________________ 96

A note from Darren Rowse – Digital Photography School The word “photography” comes from two Greek words, photo (which means “light”) and graphy (which means “to draw”). As a result many have defined photography over the years as “to draw (or write) with light”. So while many of us living in this digital era are somewhat obsessed with gear, workflows and apps in our pursuit of beautiful images, it is light itself that we should really be looking to understand. A wise landscape photographer friend of mine once said to me, “Photograph the light—not the land.” His words changed my own approach to photography—not only for landscapes but also for my day-to-day activities, particularly my portrait work. This ebook is all about getting back to the basics of light—natural light, something that’s available to all photographers and something I’ve admired in Mitchell Kanashkevich’s photography since I first came upon it.

About the Author Mitchell Kanashkevich is a freelance travel and documentary photographer. He travels the world and shoots personal projects as well as travelrelated stories and stock photos for Getty and Corbis Images. His work has appeared in some of the world’s top photography magazines, on book covers, in ad campaigns and has made its way into private photo collections around the world. When not on the road Mitchell makes his home in Sydney, Australia with his wife (and helper in every possible way) Tanya and his dog Toshka.



I mentioned right at the beginning that one of the reasons behind colour’s importance in Natural light is the most important and powerful tool available to What this ebook is about photography is that it impacts what our photographs say. This is a fact, not being aware of photographers, and it is free to everybody in the world. To begin is a tremendous of talk over about lightyour as itphotographs relates to it or ignoring it means thatThere you’re ultimately justamount losing control what understanding natural light’s potential, you only need to start closely photography, yet the topic of natural light is often made unnecessarily communicate. observing it in your everyday life. Observe the way the rays of the complex or dumbed-down and simplified to the point where our setting sun illuminate everything when you walk down a familiar Let me also throw a rathercreative bold statement out become there. Colour is not necessarily good for storypossibilities limited. street. Observe how the sunlight makes your room look when it pours telling. It has in fact, for quite some time been seen as an obstacle to story-telling. A “wrong” through the window. Then, do it all again, at a different time of day or Thisyour ebook aims provide adirection complete, comprehensive to using colour in the frame can drive story in to a different and a few of theseguide “wrong” in different weather, paying close attention to the various nuances that natural irrelevant light in photography. Onetrying of myto main goals whileorwriting colours or in other words colours to what you’re communicate coloursit come with the changes. was to make natural light accessible and easy to understand, without that distract the viewer from an action, gesture or a detail that holds importance can make your over-simplifying it. The nuances are countless and with them come countless creative story pretty impossible to understand. In short, a lot more things can go wrong when colour possibilities. Those possibilities are what makes natural light so and that’s why Above is involved a lot ofanything visual story-tellers makeisblack-and-white their medium else, this ebook about helping you see naturalof light important and powerful. as a tool and teaching you how to use it, hence making your creative choice. possibilities as a photographer infinitely wider. Developing an understanding of how natural light works to While and it is how undeniable that colour can present a challenge to effective visual story-telling, a work with it can help you hone your photographic skill andunderstanding broaden deeper and sensibility towards colour can not only help us communicate our your creative horizons without spending more money on sophisticated stories effectively, it can make the images speak louder, clearer, with more complexity and quite and expensive photographic equipment. In fact, even the absence of a often directly to the senses of the viewer. More on that later. For now, let’s have a closer look at digital SLR camera is no hindrance. A deeper understanding of natural just how we actually “speak” with colour from within the frame. light will help you take stronger, more engaging photos with any camera that has some level of manual control. SomeAs examples I hinted in in this the visual weight section, we begin to communicate with colour as soon as we ebook were shot with the fairly basic camera of an iPhone 4S, just start using it totodraw the viewer’s attention towards an element or an area within the frame. prove that point. The most visually heavy elements are the ones which speak loudest and before any others, with that in mind, let’s have a closer look at the image on the next page and through it let’s analyse a little closer how we can speak with colour.


Some disclaimers

I mentioned right at the beginning that one of the reasons behind colour’s importance in

Structure of the ebook

photography is that it impacts what our photographs say. This is a fact, not being aware of

ebook comprises seven chapters, of what whichyour havephotographs self-explanatory Although artificial lighting tools can be used in a similar manner to it or ignoring it means thatThe you’re ultimately just losing control all over titles. Within them you’ll find a combination of theoretical knowledge natural light in some of the situations I cover, this ebook is not about communicate. and practical advice. The topics range from the role of natural light in that topic. I am not playing down the power of artificial light, but I Let me also throw a rather bold statement out technical there. Colour is not necessarily photography to the necessities, working good for storydon’t discuss artificial lighting tools here. I may use the terms “natural It has time been seen as anmanifestations, obstacle to story-telling. A “wrong” withsome natural light in its various and making the most light” and “light” intermittently, but I will always betelling. referring to in fact, for quite colour in the frame can drive your story in a different direction and a few of these “wrong” of the photos you create with the aid of post-processing software. natural light. colours or in other words colours to what trying to communicate or even colours On the irrelevant practical side, thereyou’re are case studies, diagrams, and a few Light from the moon and the stars can also be classified as natural that distract the viewer from an action, gesture or a detail that holds importance can make exercises, designed to encourage you to get out there and to learnyour light, but for the sake of simplicity and in order to keep levels of story pretty impossible to from understand. In short, a lot more things go wrong when colour seeing things with your own eyes, can through the viewfinder equipment down (no remote timers, torches, less dependence on screen) of your camera. make black-and-white their medium of is involved and that’s why (or a lot of visual story-tellers tripods) I will limit what I refer to as natural light to light from the sun. choice. No educational book on photography would be complete without The final disclaimer is in regards to natural light and black and examples to learnto from. My work as story-telling, a travel and a While it is undeniable thatphotographic colour can present a challenge effective visual white photography. This is not a subject we’ll focus on; however, a photographer hasnot exposed me to deeper understanding anddocumentary sensibility towards colour can only help usinnumerable communicatenatural our lot of the information here is equally applicable to black-and-white lighting scenarios; and hence, the examples cover pretty much any stories effectively, it can make the images speak louder, clearer, with more complexity and quite photography­—just subtract color. situation you might encounter. There are also a few examples shot in often directly to the senses of the viewer. More on that later. For now, let’s have a closer look at decidedly unexotic situations­—you needn’t be far from home to apply just how we actually “speak” with colour from within the frame. the knowledge you gain. As I hinted in the visual weight section, we begin to communicate with colour as soon as we The cameras used to make the photos in this ebook were Canon 350D, start using it to draw the viewer’s attention towards an element or an area within the frame. Canon 400D, Canon 5D, and 5D MKII, as well as iPhone 4S. For those The most visually heavy elements are the ones which speak loudest and before any others, with of you into numbers and technical stuff, I include the Exif info: the that in mind, let’s have a closer look at about the image onlens theand nextsettings page and through it let’s analyse a information which I used for each shot. little closer how we can speak with included colour. the camera models where I used one of the digital I haven’t SLRs, since all have similar capabilities. The exception is images made with iPhone, which is distinctly different from the other cameras.

Getting started

We will begin our exploration of natural light by establishing what specific role or roles it plays in photography. Having accomplished this, we will look at ideas that are key to helping us work with natural light effectively and creatively. This chapter is the foundation upon which the rest of the chapters will build. What you learn here will set you on your way to becoming a thinking photographer, your deeper understanding of natural light allowing you to transcend the limitations of everyday photography.

Getting started

Communicating visually Before we begin to talk about light’s role in photography, we need to ask a rather ambitious, but vital question. What is photography about? What is the bare-bones purpose of it? It’s safe to say that most would agree on a similar variation of an answer. At the core, each photo has one purpose: to communicate visually. On the one hand, a photograph can communicate a sense of story: it can tell the viewer what something or someone looked like or what was happening in a particular scene. In the photo on this page, for example, I’m essentially telling you: here’s a man, he’s coming out of the water, he’s washing his clothes, and there are boats and flowers in the water behind him. On the other hand, a photograph can also communicate a certain sense of mood or atmosphere that touches the viewer on some level. In this image, the subdued, cool shades of gray that dominate the image create a calm and almost melancholic mood.

The communication happens regardless of what we’re photographing and regardless of whether we’re aware that every image does in fact communicate something. It is very important to be aware of this, unless you are only photographing for yourself and don’t care whether the stories you see and the feelings you have translate through your images to others. Being aware that communication is taking place allows us to photograph with more purpose. The sooner we become more intentional about communicating through our photography, the more powerful and clear our results will be. As you will soon see, light is the one element that we need to be particularly intentional about.

28m, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 200


Getting started

The role of natural light We’ve established that the essential aim of each photograph is to communicate visually. On a very basic and obvious level, light is a necessity for that communication to take place. We need it to illuminate what we frame within the viewfinder, and natural light can illuminate anything in our world. But let’s move beyond the obvious and see what further roles natural light has in photography. Besides being a basic necessity, light is the most important factor in photography alongside composition. Of more importance than light simply illuminating the subject are the various nuances of how it does so, and what effect this has on the scene. Let’s turn to the image on this page. Here, you’ll see that light is creating an interplay of bright and dark tones. It is enhancing textures, creating a sense of three-dimensionality, bringing attention to the goats’ backs and horns, and to the stones on the wall. Light is telling us a story by guiding our eye to what’s important to that story. In creating this shot I had to consciously recognize everything that light did and to decide on the framing that would make sense of

16-35mm@35mm, f/3.5, 1/400s, ISO 160

it all, which is the importance of composition I alluded to above. But it’s the way light illuminates the scene and the way it affects everything within the frame, which weaves another layer into the story, adding an element of depth and richness. It helps me to tell the story of all these goats “flowing”

between the rugged stone walls more emphatically and with more conviction. In addition, light plays a fundamental part in communicating the sense of mood, in conveying the particular atmosphere. The interplay of bright and dark tones in the image feels dynamic, even dramatic. The warm

rays of the morning sun evoke a very lively, warm and positive mood. The role of light doesn’t stop at communicating how something looks; it goes on to convey how it feels to be at the scene and this is perhaps the most profound role that it plays in photography. 9

Getting started

The power of natural light So far I’ve been talking about natural light as this general, singular thing. But, natural light is always changing and one way that makes the idea of working with it easier to grasp is to segment it into different lighting scenarios or different types of natural light. Each of the various types of natural light has its own effect on whatever you frame within the viewfinder, and as a result has a potentially limitless role in shaping what you communicate through the frame. As I mentioned on the previous page, however, perhaps the most profound role of light comes from its ability to convey a sense of mood or atmosphere. To demonstrate just how much light is responsible for communicating the mood in a scene, let’s have a look at two images of the same very simple scene, taken at the same place and composed in virtually the same way. We could say that the story, as far as the subject I chose to shoot, is essentially identical in both images. However, you’d be right to notice that the mood, or the atmosphere, is undeniably different. The first image doesn’t feel very exciting or dynamic. The mood evoked sits somewhere between neutral and melancholic. The second image is quite the opposite. It feels vibrant and exciting, and exudes a general sense of happiness. The only reason the two images have such opposing moods is the light that they were shot in. One was made at midday, when the sun was behind heavy clouds. The other was taken at sunset, on a clear day. Note: You will learn later on in the “Quick guide to natural light” chapter about what different effects various types of light have on the scene they illuminate.

(top) iPhone, f/2.4, 1/125s, ISO 100 (bottom) iPhone, f/2.4, 1/200s, ISO 64


Getting started

Light as a creative tool When I started out in photography, I used to think that there was “good” and “bad” light. To my mind, light during the magic hour (sunrises and sunsets) was the best. Light from a colorful, cloudy sky at twilight was good too. I preferred these types of light because they made everything look romantic and beautiful. All other types of light were basically “bad” or undesirable and I rarely photographed in them. My chosen approach to light always led me to photograph a specific kind of subject matter. The image on this page is a perfect example. It’s a beautiful scene, and its beauty is mainly due to light. The point is that I was only seeing those subjects that light would make appear beautiful. I was virtually blind to everything else. As I progressed with my photography, I had the urge to expand on the themes of the stories I told, beyond conveying only beauty. I wanted to convey drama, mystique, hardship, sometimes even sadness. The types of light I thought of as ”good” would not necessarily help me do that. I realized that categorizing light into “good” and “bad” was overly

24-70@43mm, f/10, 1/320s, ISO 400

simplistic and incredibly limiting creatively. I eventually came to see all the possible types of light as a creative tool-set for the photographer who understands how to use them. Just as there’s the right or wrong tool

for a specific job, there’s the right or wrong light for what you’re trying to communicate through an image. The diffused midday sunlight of an overcast day wouldn’t make the scene in the photo above look romantic and beautiful the way light of the clear

setting sun did. However, this doesn’t mean that it couldn’t communicate something entirely different—more suitable for that particular lighting scenario—just as effectively.


Getting started

Adapting to the light It’s important to see light as a creative tool, but unlike an actual tool, a particular type of light is not something you pull out of the box on demand. We can’t control natural light. We can only adapt to it, or pick the right story or the right mood to be communicated with the particular kind of light that we’ve been dealt at a given time. Sometimes it’s most practical to allow light to become the driving force behind the images we make. The photo on this page is a good example of allowing light to be that driving force. It was taken offshore from a little fishing village. There were plenty of romantic, serene and beautiful scenes to capture around there, but I was also affected by the fishermen’s struggle to make a living at sea. I spent a few days near the village and decided that what I’d shoot on a given day would depend on the light available to me that day. Clear skies and the potential for golden light of the magic hour meant I’d concentrate on the beautiful stuff. Overcast skies and an almost grayish kind of light meant I’d focus on telling the story of the hard stuff, the struggle.

16-35@20mm, f/2.8, 1/6400s, ISO 640

Because the light situation is often so unpredictable, it’s useful to always have a few ideas floating around for what you want to shoot. Having more than one idea for a photo means that you’ll have more chances to create powerful images under almost any circumstances.

Of course we don’t always have the time or we may need to make a very specific photo, in which case we really just have to get the most of what we have—we can’t control the forces of nature.

To know when to apply which idea, one needs to understand the types of light and the potential of each type of light for communicating stories and for creating a mood. This will be covered in detail a little later, in the chapter called “Quick guide to natural light”. 12

Getting started

The philosophy behind working with natural light As we’ve seen, we can’t control natural light at its source. We can only learn how to get the most out of it for our photography. To do this, we first need to learn how to read light, and we need to understand its effect on what it illuminates. One of the most important steps to achieving this is to start asking questions. Get in the habit of looking at photographs and asking yourself: What does light help to convey here? What time of day was this shot at? Which direction is the light coming from? Could this have been shot in a different light and still had the same effect? To really master light, you need to become obsessed with it. You need to train your eye to recognize its various subtleties, all of which play a role when light’s effect translates to an image. When you walk the streets, when you’re at work, when you’re resting and going about your everyday life, you need to constantly pay attention to the lighting scenarios. Even without a camera, look at the interplay of shadows, observe how

70-200@145mm, f/10, 1/40s, ISO 100

light affects colors, watch out for situations where light creates unusual affects as in the image here. When the time to make the shot does come, your eye and your mind will be trained to intuitively make all the necessary adjustments and decisions within seconds so as not to miss the shot. 13

Exercise: Pick your favorite or most-respected photographer and try to break down ten of their images. Ask yourself lightrelated questions about the images, such as the ones I mentioned, and start to consciously absorb the information. Don’t worry if you can’t answer all these questions just yet. The exercise is all about training your eye and you’ll start that training simply by looking at images in a more critical manner. 13


Dealing with natural light is not only a creative or philosophical matter. There is an unavoidable practical and technical side, predominantly in the form of metering and exposure. Before continuing, I should note that our cameras are not as powerful as our eyes. They cannot capture the same colors and tones, or “dynamic range”, that our eyes can see. This is important to keep in mind, as it means that in some scenarios, particularly those involving high contrasts, we won’t be able to get the exposure right in-camera. We can get around the limitations, but in order to do that, we need to understand that they exist.


Metering The act of measuring or reading of light levels in the scenes we frame within the viewfinder is called metering. Digital cameras have builtin light meters to do this job. The light meter computes the readings of light levels in relation to the sensitivity of the sensor (which can be adjusted with ISO). It then tells us what shutter and aperture settings will achieve a correctly exposed shot. We see the light meter in action every time we look through the viewfinder— it’s that line with the bars and the moving marker at the bottom. There are slight variations between what different cameras’ light meters look like, and yours may look different from what you see in this image. However, the general idea behind them is exactly the same: a marker along the middle of the line signifies a correctly exposed image. A move of the marker to either side means under- or overexposure. The further the marker is from the middle, the more under- or over-exposed your shot. Camera manufacturers have built different metering modes or systems into most modern-day digital cameras. They allow us to meter in various ways. For example, we might want to meter on a precise, small

area of the frame to expose our shot for that, or we might want to do the opposite and expose for a larger area. The different metering modes are to

help us do such things and, at least in theory, they give us more flexibility in dealing with different lighting scenarios.

Let’s look at the available metering modes on the following page to see how they work.



Types of metering modes Here are the common metering modes you’ll find in the most widely used digital cameras—Canon and Nikon. The illustrations are based on a Canon viewfinder. There might be variations in how things look on other cameras, but not to the point where you cannot recognize them. Figure 1: Evaluative (Canon) or Matrix (Nikon)

Figure 1

Figure 2

This is the default metering mode on most DSLRs and many compacts, and the most sophisticated of all the metering modes. It works by analyzing the entire frame for light and dark tones, then looking at where your focus point is (which can be any one of those tiny squares in or around the circle) and marking the most important determining factor, while still considering the rest of the frame). Evaluative or Matrix mode is generally considered the best all-round system. Figure 3

Figure 2: Spot metering This is heavily weighted to the center, covering just 3.8% of the viewfinder area (on average). Spot metering mode can be good when there is a very specific, small element to expose for in a scene.

Figure 4

The camera uses a light reading based on the red/pink areas to determine the exposure. The darker the color, the more weight is given to that area.

Figure 3: Partial metering

The truth about metering modes

This is weighted towards the center of the viewfinder, covering around 13.5% of the area. This mode is best for cases where we need to expose for a backlit subject and don’t want the subject to become a silhouette.

I’ll admit it! For many years I wasn’t even aware that different metering modes existed. I shot everything in the default “Evaluative/Matrix” mode, and even now that I am aware, I still never change the setting.

Figure 4: Center-weighted

We can actually achieve a correct exposure with any of the available modes. Some of them might excel more than others in specific situations, but in practice, our proficiency will depend on what we’re used to, and on what system makes the most sense to us.

This is weighted at the center of the image and then averaged-out for the entire scene. It is the preferred mode of some photographers because it is generally very predictable in how it reads the light levels—it always does this based solely on what’s in the center.

Moral of the story: Familiarize yourself with different metering modes, but do not obsess about them to the point where they become a distraction.

Note: There’s no need to compose all your images with the subject in the center (which is where the camera makes a light reading in most modes). Center your subject just to make a reading, and lock the exposure, usually by pressing the shutter button halfway, or with a separate control. After locking the exposure, re-compose the shot as is most suitable for what you’re communicating. 16

If you’re new to photography, my suggestion is to shoot using the Evaluative/Matrix mode, as I have. I find its ability to evaluate the entire frame and then to give the final reading with consideration for a specific focus point very convenient, flexible, and powerful.

16-35@16mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 100

Metering and exposing As I mentioned in the introduction to this chapter our cameras are not as powerful as our eyes. This becomes particularly apparent when contrast between bright and dark areas in a framed scene is high. Regardless of what metering mode we use, the camera sensor cannot capture the entire range of light levels, nor the dynamic range that our eyes see. We cannot get a perfectly exposed image right out of the camera. Fortunately, we can get around the problem to an extent by “expanding the dynamic range” in post-processing software—more on that a little later.

What’s important to note now is that to be able to make this expansion we need to take special considerations at the time of the shoot, while metering and exposing our photographs. The image above demonstrates how I do this. In Evaluative Metering mode (that’s the one I prefer; you can use another mode) I used the focus point (by focusing and refocusing) to meter on the most contrasting areas: the man and the bullock with dark shadows and very bright clouds in the sky. I took mental notes of the readings and then made a calculation to decide on what settings to use when exposing to avoid losing detail in either area.

In this case I wanted to be on the safe side with the bright clouds, and decided to go with the meter reading for them, hence intentionally underexposing the man and the bullock. You can see the result of this decision in the left image, which is unedited from the camera. The right image had the dynamic range expanded. I knew I could bring out detail in the underexposed areas in post-processing, and that’s what I did. The decisions about what to meter on and what to expose for are generally made with consideration for what important area or element within the frame is at most risk of getting lost.

To do the job well, it’s very important to know where the threshold is, and how far we can under- or over-expose before losing detail for good). A few test exposures and the in-camera histogram which we’ll discuss on the following page can be a big help. There will be times when contrasts are simply too great; no matter how we meter or expose, we won’t be able to preserve all the detail we want, nor will we be able to bring it back in post-processing. In those cases we have to make sacrifices. A part of an image might remain too bright or too dark, but the trade off is having the most important element properly exposed. 17


The histogram The histogram feature is available on most modern-day digital SLRs. It is a graphical representation of what portions of an image are dark, bright, or moderate through spikes along a horizontal line. On the left side of the line are spikes that represent the shadows/dark parts; in the middle are mid-tones, or moderate parts; on the right are highlights, or brightest parts. All the tones in between these points are represented by spikes. The higher the spike, the more intense the tones in the image corresponding to that place on the histogram line. If the spikes are so high that they’re cut off or clipped, the histogram is telling us that we’re losing detail in that particular area. On the far right you see three different histograms. Histogram 1 has clipped spikes in the shadows. This means a loss of detail in the dark areas. In Histogram 2, the spikes are clipped in the highlights, indicating

a loss of detail in the bright areas. Histogram 3 has a good balance between shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. There is no loss of detail anywhere. If at this stage you are thinking that clipped spikes on the histogram are “bad” you are only partially right. Everything depends on your goal for a given image. You might decide you cannot afford to have clipped spikes and lost detail in the part of the image that is the highest priority to you. For example, you might want to avoid over-exposing the sky, as was the case with the image on the previous page. However, there will be times when the lost detail represented by clipped spikes will not be important enough to expose for accurately, because it might sacrifice detail in a more important element within the frame. Here’s the proof. The histograms in the box actually correspond to the images below.


Histogram 1 belongs to Image A. There’s a lot of darkness in this image and detail in those dark areas is lost, but this doesn’t actually bother me one bit. My aim was to have a part of the frame in complete darkness. I didn’t need detail, as much as a sense of mystery. Histogram 2 belongs to Image B. There was no way that I could capture detail in the area around the bright midday sun; that wasn’t the point. My aim was to show the face of a man in a trance, lifting a cup of alcohol to the sky.




Histogram 3 belongs to Image C. There’s obviously no loss of detail anywhere, but this doesn’t mean that the image is any better than the other two. All in all, the histogram can be a very useful tool, as long as you interpret it with consideration for what you are trying to achieve and with some idea of what you will do with the image in post-processing.


(A) 70-200@85mm, f/2.8, 1/50s, ISO 2500 (B) 24-70@32mm, f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 100 (C) 24-70@24mm, f/16, 1/125s, ISO 100



The changing characteristics of natural light

Light changes—or rather its characteristics change. The changes occur in accordance with the time of day, due to the weather, and because of various other circumstances. This chapter will give you a comprehensive idea about what commonly happens to light’s key characteristics. Even more importantly for our photographic purposes, we’ll look at the effect these changing characteristics have on what the light illuminates when it comes to subject matter.

The changing characteristics of natural light

Light quality By light quality, I refer to whether the light is hard, soft, or somewhere in between. Light quality will depend on the circumstances in which you’re shooting. For example, the first image on the right was shot outdoors, close to midday, under direct sunlight. These conditions usually produce the brightest and hence the harshest kind of light there is. Notice how bright everything looks and then direct your attention to the very deep shadows —these are key characteristics of hard light.

The bottom-left image was shot on a cloudy day, with light completely diffused. The key feature to notice here is the lack of shadows, the light being so soft that it didn’t produce any. The bottom-right image was shot during the early stages of sunset. While the light is direct, it is a little diffused by the earth’s atmosphere and hence it can be categorized as somewhere in between—you can see that the shadows are not very deep nor distinct in this case. There are other circumstances that influence the quality of light, and we’ll cover the specifics of these a little later on.

(top) 16-35@35mm, f/4.5, 1/1000s, ISO 100 (left) 24-70@32mm, f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO 500 (right) 20mm, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 200


(all images) 24-70@38mm, f/6.3, 1/1328s, ISO 100

Direction of natural light

What this means in real life situations is that if a beautiful landscape or building you desperately want to photograph appears rather uninspiring because of the light, don’t fear. Wait around or come back another time, and you’ll likely find it looking completely transformed.

Direction of light changes constantly. The most obvious reason for the change is the Earth’s movement around the sun. In practical terms, this translates to the direction of light shifting through various parts of the day.

Hint: A compass can be very useful to predict where the sun will rise and set, even more useful is a phone app called “Sun Seeker”. To see the finer effects that light has on a scene, however, you need to be there and observe.

Where such direction change becomes particularly relevant is in photography of larger subjects, such as geographical features and buildings. You can photograph these subjects throughout the day and find light coming from different angles, hence illuminating different parts of the scene or casting shadows.


The images above serve as a good example of this. All are part of a two-hour time-lapse, and all were shot from exactly the same spot. Different time meant a different direction of light and shadows in different places. 21

Start paying special attention to the way the direction of light changes. You can go to your backyard or just outside your home on a sunny day. Pick a scene and photograph it over a period of a couple of hours, or even over the whole day. No need for a time-lapse; the point is simply to see how light affects everything within that scene, as the sun’s direction changes.

The changing characteristics of natural light

More on direction of natural light Light’s direction also changes because of where you and/or your subject are positioned in relation to the light source. Your light source might be the sun or an open window in a room. Positioning the subject between the light source and yourself creates the familiar silhouette. This is backlighting, and it’s what you see in the image below. Light coming through a window in a dark room at roughly a 45° angle to to the subject creates a progression of light to dark tones, as in the image on the left. I often refer to this as

the sculpting effect because the light appears to be sculpting the subject. The same effect can be achieved outdoors as well—we simply need to photograph when the sun is close to the horizon and is also a little diffused by the Earth’s atmosphere, which is to say sunrise or sunset. We’ll see much more on this in “Quick guide to natural light” and “Directing light”.

(left) iPhone, f/2.4, 1/30s, ISO 64 (below) 20mm f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 100


A world of possibilities Our light sources can move horizontally and vertically. Again, just think of the sun or imagine a window high up on a wall or in a ceiling. This flexibility of the light’s path translates into limitless nuances. Here I’ll cover two more which occur pretty frequently.

(left) 24-70@24mm, f/9, 1/250s, ISO 100 (right) 24-70@27mm, f/2.8, 1/64s, ISO 2500


Multiple light sources

A semi-silhouette is created when the light source is behind a subject, but rather than being directly opposite, shining into the lens, it is located a little to the side or at approximately 45° in relation to the camera.

In the image on the right I used multiple light sources. Notice that both sides of the young monk’s face are lit—but not lit in the same way. This is due to the varying size and intensity of each light source.

When this is the case, light can create a bright outline around the subject. If in addition to being to the side the light is above the subject, as in the image on the left, there is more overall brightness in the scene. More detail is gained in dark areas, and a bright outline or rim of light is created around the top of the subject too.

One light source is a large opening in a room. It is located towards the left side of the frame, relatively far from the subject. This light is strong, but diffused and makes the left side of the face look bright, but soft.

The other light source is a much narrower doorway, located to the right side of the frame, much closer to the subject. It is less diffused and more intense. You can see that it doesn’t make the whole right side of the monk’s face bright, rather it only creates a very bright spot around his temple. Note: If all this stuff sounds a little confusing, don’t worry—there will be more examples and diagrams of where the light is coming from later. For now, you just need to absorb the information, to become familiar with what light looks like in different situations.


Diffused light in the shade at sunrise

Golden light diffused by Earth’s atmosphere at sunrise

Natural light and color

(left) iPhone, f/2.4, 1/148s, ISO 64 (middle) iPhone, f/2.4, 1/350s, ISO 64 (right) iPhone, f/2.4, 1/2500s, ISO 64

Light has an enormous impact on color. It can make colors look more vivid, more dull or bleached, or depending on the type of light you’re shooting in, all the colors in the scene can take on a certain tinge. The examples above are of a very simple subject: a stone wall. The images are unedited from the camera and they demonstrate natural light’s effect on color perfectly—just observe how the color of the wall changes in different lighting scenarios. Note: In order to deepen your understanding of light’s impact on color, pay close attention to what effect different types of natural light have on color in the upcoming “Quick guide to natural light” chapter.

Direct bleaching light around midday

Exercise: You can see natural light’s effect on color yourself by doing an experiment similar to mine. As you can see, you don’t need a complex subject; photograph whatever you have access to over different parts of the day.


Post-processing and light

You should be under no illusion that the images included here looked that way directly from the camera. In fact, the images you see in magazines, on billboards, and elsewhere in the professional photography world have all to some extent been post-processed, or, in other words, digitally manipulated. This ebook would not be complete without touching on the relationship that post-processing has with light. It fulfils a vital role in creating the final image, and that’s exactly what we’ll look at in this chapter. I should stress that this chapter is not a tutorial on post-processing. It is an overview that will give you an idea of the importance of post-processing, and of the possibilities that it brings. For tutorials I recommend Neil Creek’s Nuts and Post or simply Google “post-processing” and “photography” to find myriad free resources. Even though this isn’t a tutorial, you can still immediately apply the information in a practical manner to your own photography. Look at the examples, experiment with the software and learn from the post-processing section in the “Case studies” chapter.

Reasons for post-processing Our eyes are capable of perceiving incredible degrees of tones, colors and details. Strong contrasts between light and dark parts of a scene are no hindrance to our visual perception, which performs effortlessly in all but the most extreme situations. Today’s digital cameras cannot do the tasks our eyesight can, no matter how expensive or advanced they are. In many situations, to even get close to communicating through our photographs what our eyes perceived so easily in life, digital camera users must turn to post-processing (digital manipulation) software. For this simple reason post-processing has come to be considered a vital part of photography for anyone working with the digital medium. Some photographers use digital manipulation software to purposely stylize their images to look surreal. Without engaging in any debate about whether that is good or bad, it’s clearly not a necessity that photographers can’t function without, and therefore we won’t deal with it here. The basic reason for post-processing as it relates to light is to compensate for the camera’s shortcomings in capturing the light’s impact on the subject we frame within the viewfinder. The general description to cover for what we do is to expand the dynamic range of tones and colors beyond what the camera’s capabilities are.

More specifically, this act might involve darkening over-exposed aspects within the frame, while brightening under-exposed parts. We might also increase contrast or bring out colors and tones that had a strong presence in the scene, but didn’t translate effectively enough after the camera’s internal image processor was done with them. Post-processing effects may be applied to an entire image or to very specific areas within the frame. The various techniques used are not rocket science, but there is a learning curve. Once you do grasp the post-processing basics, however, more possibilities open up and your images will reach a new level.

Common post-processing tools, techniques and their purposes Over the next few pages I will be referring to the tools and techniques found in Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Photomatix (for HDR). These are the most commonly used post-processing software packages. However, regardless of what software you use, the concepts covered here will give you a basic understanding generally transferable to other software. Note: Understanding of natural light is relevant no matter what camera you use, and a few iPhone examples are provided to reiterate the point. However, those of you who are serious about consistently getting the most out of your photographs should be using cameras that allow you to shoot in RAW format.

(left) 24-70@68mm, f11, 1/500s, ISO 250; (middle) 70-200@200mm, f2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 100; (right) 70-200@100mm, f/7.1, 1/200s, ISO 400 26

Post-processing and light

Global adjustments Global adjustments are adjustments that affect an entire photograph or an entire range of tones or colors within the frame. They provide the quickest and easiest way to address the camera’s shortcomings. The most commonly used global adjustments that we need to be aware of are controlled by the sliders in Adobe Lightroom and in Photoshop Camera RAW. Exposure darkens or brightens the entire image Recovery (Highlights in Lightroom 4): brings back details in very bright areas by darkening them, unless the image has been severely over-exposed Fill light (Shadows in Lightroom 4): brings back the detail in dark areas by brightening them, unless they are severely under-exposed Blacks: makes black colors look darker and adds punch Contrast: adds more or less drama and punch to an image Tone Curve and sliders below it for Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows: have the ability to do the job of the abovementioned sliders Temperature: makes the image look warmer or cooler

24-70@70mm, f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 400

Saturation, Hue and Luminosity: can adjust individual colors Now to see global adjustments in action. The “before” version of the image is a little dull. The camera was unable to capture the contrasts in tones and the vivid colors that the light created and my eyes perceived. I’ve dealt with this issue in the “after” image solely through the use of global adjustments. A similar result can be reached through various tweaks—no right or wrong way. My choice was to work with the Tone Curve sliders, slightly increasing the value of Highlights, slightly decreasing values in Lights and Darks and significantly decreasing the value in Shadows. While the “after” image is an adequate improvement achieved through just a few tweaks of the global adjustment sliders, there are more complex cases when global adjustments are only the first step in post-processing. In those cases we need to turn to local adjustments, which is what we’ll look at on the next page. Note: We can apply the same or similar adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop (though not in Camera RAW) to a Jpeg file. The big downside is that the margin for error when working with Jpegs is much smaller. Even slight under- or over-exposure can result in a complete loss of detail and no matter how you try, you will not be able to bring it back. The Jpeg file just doesn’t store adequate data to allow this. 27

20mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 400

Local adjustments Local adjustments are adjustments to specific, isolated areas of an image. Ideally, local adjustments are applied to a photograph which has already had all the necessary global adjustment tweaks. The main tools to make local adjustments are the Exposure Adjustment Brush in Adobe Lightroom and Camera RAW and the Dodge and Burn tools, when working with a Jpeg in Photoshop. The most common scenario requiring local adjustments involves a minor part of the frame being much brighter or darker than the dominant part of the frame. In these situations, tweaking the global adjustment

sliders to make either part look better means undesirable consequences for the other. The image here is a good example of a situation needing local adjustments. The contrast between the bright white costume and the rest of the scene meant that it was not possible to expose all the elements in the scene properly. I tweaked the photograph as much as possible with the global adjustment sliders, but fixing the issue of the white, slightly over-exposed costume meant everything else in the photograph would be too dark.

The solution was to paint with the Exposure Adjustment Brush, slightly decreasing the exposure value (it can also be increased if desired). This was done just enough to bring out the detail in the white costume. With some practise, the combination of the global adjustments mentioned on the previous page and the Exposure Adjustment Brush can solve a very wide range of our cameras’ light-capturing shortcomings. Quite often, the Exposure Adjustment Brush is used to make smaller tweaks—in this case, brightening of the eye’s iris. Once again, the contrast between the dark iris and the main areas I exposed for meant that the 28

camera was not capable of capturing the desired range of tone and detail. With that said, for finer tweaks similar to this one, I often find the Dodge (used for brightening) and Burn (for darkening) tools in Photoshop much more responsive.

TIP: Use the Exposure Adjustment Brush to do all the major adjustments, particularly those involving bringing out the detail in high contrast scenarios on the RAW file. After that’s done, output to a Tiff or Jpeg and apply the finishing touches with the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop. Just keep in mind the limitations of working with a Jpeg file, if that’s what you output to or if that’s what format you shot in.

16-35@35mm, f/2.8, 1/80s, ISO 100

More local adjustments In addition to the Exposure Adjustment Brush, the Adjustment Brush can be used to adjust various other attributes. The ones most relevant to us are clarity, which subtly makes the details stand out more; and contrast, which as with global adjustments can add an element of drama and make the image look more punchy. Painting in layer masks in Photoshop is perhaps the most potent and advanced way to apply local adjustments. To grasp the concept and to understand its potential, let’s turn to an example and see a brief overview of the process.

The images overlapping one another on the left are two layers, versions of the same photograph with different global adjustments applied to them. These are layered one over the other to produce the image on the right. The aim of the technique is to take the desired parts from each photograph and to combine them into one. In this case the bottom layer had most of the image looking as I desired, but a smaller part—the girl’s face, her hair and the donkey—is too dark. I prefer to place the image with the smaller desired part (smaller in area) on top, hence, the image where the girl’s face, hair and the donkey look just right, goes on top.

The layer mask is an additional, invisible layer created inside the top layer. The layer mask is used to reveal those parts of the top layer that are desired and to hide everything else. The process is controlled with the Brush tool. We paint over the areas we want to reveal and leave out the ones we want to keep hidden. In the example above a layer mask was created in the top layer. I painted over the girl’s face, hair and the donkey to reveal those areas of the top layer, while keeping the rest of the areas from the bottom layer. The concept has similarities to painting with the Adjustment Brush— it’s another way of expanding the range of tones and colors in an image.

Like the Adjustment Brush, the brush used inside a layer mask is responsible for the intensity of an effect. By changing brush opacity we determine what percentage of the top layer to reveal, hence, how much of the effect to apply. What’s really special about the layer mask approach compared with the Adjustment Brush, is that this technique allows an infinite amount of adjustments. We can combine multiple images adjusted in various ways into one image and again turn it into a layer with a layer mask. Then, we can selectively bring out the combined effects with incredible precision with the stroke of the Brush tool. 29

Post-processing and light

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Images HDR software is most useful in extremely high-contrast situations or, in other words, when there is a high dynamic range of tones and colors in a scene, as you see in the photo on this page. Photomatix is arguably the best combination of simplicity and power in a single HDR software package. Adobe Photoshop has its own feature for HDR, but most would agree that it is not quite on the same level. The creation of an HDR image involves working around the camera’s inability to capture high dynamic range situations by combining multiple captures into a single image. Ideally one image will be properly exposed for the highlights, another for the mid-tones, and another for the shadows. There’s not always a need to use three images, though this number or more are preferable for higher contrast situations. Three captures also make sense in terms of the bracketing feature. With bracketing turned on, you make three consecutive clicks of the shutter button and your camera automatically changes the exposure for each shot. The first shot is exposed for whatever you metered on, while the second and the third captures are under- and over-exposed in relation to the first shot—you can set by how much. A tripod is beneficial when shooting for an HDR photo. The multiple shots need to be framed identically. However, you can sometimes get away with handholding the camera. Turn bracketing on, hold your camera very steady and fire off three quick shots, attempting to frame all three to be as similar as possible. The HDR software will be smart enough to compensate for any slight variations in framing by automatically aligning the images. Inside of Photomatix there are two options for making HDR images—Exposure Fusion and Tone Mapping.” Both work in a similar manner, but Tone Mapping offers more control. There are numerous sliders to tweak various aspects of the HDR creation. If you are interested in HDR photography, the best way to familiarize yourself with it is to download a demo version of Photomatix and to experiment. There are a couple of major drawbacks to HDR photography. You cannot photograph moving objects since you can’t frame a moving object the same way multiple times, and often the images can appear unrealistic and need much extra tweaking to make them look more lifelike.

Common settings for all images: 16-35@16mm, f/2.8, ISO 1000 (left) 1/8000s (right) 1/500s (bottom) 1/2000s


Post-processing and light

Pseudo HDR Images Pseudo HDR is based on the same concept as HDR and can be done in Photomatix, but instead of separate, multiple captures combined into one shot, a Pseudo HDR image combines multiple versions of the same photograph created from a single RAW file. You only really need two images for Pseudo HDR because the dynamic range within one RAW file is just not as wide as that of multiple captures. Any postprocessing software should allow you to make a version of your image very dark (under-exposed) to bring out the detail in the bright areas and another version very bright (over-exposed) to bring the detail out in the dark areas. Refer to the smaller images at the bottom of this page to gain a better idea on this. The HDR software will blend them into one, as was the case with the top image. The advantage of Pseudo HDR is that it renders moving objects a non-issue. The big disadvantage is that you ultimately remain limited by the camera’s shortcomings, and the technique is useless in really high-contrast scenarios. If the sky in the photograph here was over-exposed just a little more, there would be no way I could bring back the detail in it. In theory, Pseudo HDR doesn’t really achieve anything that you can’t achieve with global adjustments, careful painting with the Exposure Adjustment Brush and certainly with layer masks. In practice, painting in areas of an image can be painstaking and besides that, the image that comes out of HDR software often just has a specific feel to it that can’t be replicated in any other way. Ultimately, the choice of method is a matter of personal preference.

Combining it all together and some final words Adobe Lightroom is arguably the most potent and easy to use post-processing software available. A huge number of situations can be dealt with in Lightroom. However, there will be occasions when bringing in the other software packages mentioned here will achieve the quickest and most desirable results. I often make the core adjustments in Lightroom and fine-tune the image in Photoshop. I also never leave an HDR or Pseudo HDR image that comes out from Photomatix untouched—work with layer masks in Photoshop is a must. The techniques or software packages you use to post-process your photographs are up to you. The one clear fact is that the more informed and skilled you are, the better results you can achieve.

Original out of the camera image

Under-exposed in Lightroom

Common settings for all images: 20mm, f/3.2, 1/200s, ISO 640

Over-exposed in Lightroom 31

Quick guide to natural light

Conceptualising light as able to be divided into tangible segments makes it manageable, practical, and easier to understand. For this reason, for the most part I avoid talking about light as one abstract, ever-changing whole. Rather, I find it more apt to talk about it in terms of different lighting scenarios or, different types of light. In this chapter, a section is devoted to each of the most common types of light, covering their key characteristics, as well as the typical challenges they pose for the photographer. The last part of each section focuses on the idea of different types of light being akin to a set of tools with which the photographer can communicate visually. For this, I share examples drawn from years of my own experiences of using light creatively. You don’t have to agree with all of them, but they should provide some food for thought and raise your awareness of light’s potential. I encourage you to come back to this chapter to reacquaint yourself with the different types of light and to look for light-related inspiration for your future shoots.

Twilight Beginning and end of the day produce a number of distinct and atmospheric lighting scenarios. The rather broad

• The presence of scattered clouds near the horizon where the sun sets can sometimes result in a spectacular light-and-color show. The clouds are painted with shades that range from deep red to bright purple.

Twilight is a flexible kind of light.

• Has a tinting effect on colors. The tint can be cool grayish or bluish, as in the left and center images, when there are no lit-up clouds in the sky, to the various colors of the clouds, when they are present, as in the image on the right.

Depending on which stage of twilight

• Twilight is always soft—it either produces no shadows or the shadows are very faint.

term for them is twilight.

we shoot in or in which specific scenario, this light is capable of making our subjects look beautiful, mysterious or even mystical.

(left) 20mm, f/3.2, 30s, ISO 800 (middle) 16-35@16mm, f/5.0, 1/80s, ISO 500 (right) 20mm, f/6.3, 1/20s, ISO 125

• Twilight can be directional, especially with illuminated clouds in the sky. In such cases the bright cloudy sky becomes the light source. Notice how the cloudy sky backlights the boats in the image on the right. In other cases, when there aren’t illuminated clouds in the sky, the side where the sun is about to rise or has just set can still be a little brighter than elsewhere, which means that the light will be more intense from that direction. • Twilight can lack power: The further the sun is below the horizon, the weaker the light.


TWILIGHT Challenges and Solutions (Part I) Challenge During twilight, the intensity of natural light can be fairly weak and it is common to encounter blur from camera shake when we shoot in it.

How to deal with it Use a fast lens, which allows you to open up the aperture to f/2.8 or more (a lower number). Some lenses go all the way down to f/1. Set the lowest possible f-stop value (if your lens goes below f/2.8, great), the highest usable ISO (usually before grain becomes so noticeable that it takes attention away from the image) and the fastest possible shutter speed (before you lose too much detail in the darker areas). Use a wide-angle lens—it’s not as prone to showing the camera shake. Stabilize yourself, hold your breath, and fire off a few consecutive shots. If you follow these steps, even at shutter speeds as slow as 1/4s you should be able to capture at least one camera-shake-free image among one of those frames. Impractical as it may be at times, using a tripod completely solves the camera shake problem.

Challenge The less intense light in some scenarios during twilight can also cause movement of the subject to be blurred.

How to deal with it If the movement is very subtle, follow the steps above for reducing camera shake to help end up with a fairly blur-free image. Ultimately, it’s impossible to avoid blurring when there is distinct movement. The “motion blur” challenge can be seized as a creative tool to communicate movement, as I did in the bottom image. For this effect, adjust the camera settings for proper exposure with a lower shutter speed, between 1/4s and 1/25s. You’ll notice the blur in faster movements at shutter speeds around 1/25s, and slower movements tend to blur closer to 1/4s.

(top) 16-35@16, f/2.8, 1/40s, ISO 3200 (bottom) 16-35@27mm, f/2.8, 1/4s, ISO 320

TWILIGHT Challenges and Solutions (Part II) Challenge It can be very difficult to capture tones during the darker stages of twilight.

How to deal with it You need to allow as much light into the camera as possible. Following the steps to prevent camera-shake-blur will help, but a tripod and the camera set on a long exposure is the best solution here. It’s the best solution, that is, if your subject is still. As already mentioned, it’s, not possible to photograph detail effectively in moving subjects without artificial lighting; the detail gets blurred with movement. An alternative solution is to turn the limitation into a creative decision. I focus on scenarios where the subject will work well with less visible detail or even close to a silhouette, as in the top image.

Challenge When the lit-up, cloudy sky becomes the light source and we are shooting into it, the contrasts can become very high.

How to deal with it Compensate for the area you are in danger of losing when exposing and expand the tonal range in post-processing software. A few tweaks of the Exposure, Fill light/Shadows, and Recovery/Highlights in Lightroom can work magic. HDR can be a good option in scenarios with still subjects— I used it to good effect in the image at the bottom. When none of the above is possible, embrace the idea of less detail and the possibility of focusing on shapes and outlines as silhouettes.

(top) 16-35@16mm, f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 800 (bottom) 16-35@23mm, f/5.8, 1/60s, ISO 100

(left) 16-35@35mm, f/2.8, 1/50s, ISO 100 (right) 24-70@48mm, f/2.8, 1/40s, ISO 1250

Potential for visual communication •

Words such as “atmospheric”, “mystical” and “romantic” are often used when describing the effect of twilight. Excitement comes to mind when a cloudy sky is lit up with bright colors. Associations with calmness and tranquility arise when the sky is not lit up and simply gives subjects a cool tint. These associations and moods are likely to be present to at least some extent in virtually any photograph we make in the types of light we encounter at twilight. This light occurs at specific times of day and is the dominant light source in certain situations, that is, away from strong artificial light sources. As a result, there is a natural limit to what we can shoot in it or what stories we can tell. Scenes of nature, away from bright city lights, and people starting or ending their day amid that nature, are the most common themes. The photo on the right of women performing a morning prayer ceremony by the river is a good example.

Focusing on stories that can be told through shapes and outlines (right image) rather than through details and textures is your only real option during the darker stages of twilight when your subjects are moving. It’s a different case for still subjects. You can use a slow enough shutter speed to show detail, if you’re using a tripod.

There is a small window of time during the brighter stages of twilight when we can draw attention to detail in moving subjects (left image). However, the softness of the light means that it’s still not ideal if we need to emphasize textures.

The lighting scenarios at twilight are not the best for communicating cheerful situations. The different stages of twilight simply do not have cheerful associations by default. This doesn’t mean that we can’t photograph happy scenes, it just means that the intended mood won’t be communicated very emphatically.


Magic/golden hour light The first and last hour of daylight are both often referred to as the “magic hour” or the “golden hour”. The names come from the fact that everything this light illuminates tends to look golden and magical. Because of these factors, a lot of photographers find it a very desirable light to shoot in.

• T  he light at this time of day tints colors from deep orange when the sun is closest to the horizon, to a lighter orange when the sun is a little above the horizon, to shades of yellow when the sun is at its highest point (nearing the end of its rise or at the beginning of its descent). • It makes all colors look very vivid and lively; the sky opposite to the sun usually looks a very deep blue.  he golden hour light can be directed in various ways. We can create silhouettes, • T semi-silhouettes, and a progression of light–dark tones, hence sculpting our subjects with light and evoking a sense of volume and depth and, occasionally, drama. • It’s very versatile due to the changing effect on color and our ability to direct it, which allows us to make a myriad of images. • It’s fairly soft as the sun draws closer to the horizon and still less harsh and visually pleasing than during the day, when it is higher.

(left) 16-35@16mm, f/7.1, 1/80s, ISO 100 (middle) 24-70@25mm, f/4.5, 1/320s, ISO 125 (right) 20mm, f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 100

• It creates long and distinct shadows, which can be used for great dramatic effect.



MAGIC/GOLDEN HOUR Challenges and Solutions (Part I) Challenge Shadows can be cast in the wrong places, and it can be difficult to keep your own shadow out of the shot.

How to deal with it Be conscious of shadows and position yourself and/or the subject accordingly. Avoid having your own shadow in the shot by using a longer lens, so that you don’t need to stand very close to the subject. Often the interplay of shadows and light creates a sense of drama and can actually be what makes the image powerful, as shown in the top photo.

Challenge With the sun located anywhere near the inside of the frame, you’ll likely need to deal with some very high contrasts. For example, much detail can be lost in the contrast between sky and ground when shooting a landscape.

How to deal with it Light is very directional during the magic hour, and part of the high contrast issue can be solved by simply repositioning yourself. The scene in the bottom photo had much higher contrasts from my initial viewpoint. I repositioned myself, to have the sun coming from the side (frame left), which reduced the contrast dramatically. When repositioning is not an option, expose with consideration for the element at risk of getting lost and work on the image in post-processing software to “expand” the dynamic range. Experiment with embracing the contrast and shoot silhouettes, focusing on shapes and outlines. Use HDR for non-moving subjects or anytime you can get someone to stay still for at least two exposures.

(top) 24-70@34mm, f/11, 1/640s, ISO 200 (bottom) 24-70@29mm, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 100

MAGIC/GOLDEN HOUR Challenges and Solutions (Part II) Challenge Light changes fast and there’s a very short amount of time to shoot.

How to deal with it Plan what you shoot beforehand. Be where you need to be before the magic/ golden hour begins. Have specific ideas of what you hope to shoot. For example, when the sun is very close to the horizon, look to shoot silhouettes. When it’s a little higher, try to shoot in a way where you can use the progression of light–dark tones to sculpt the subjects with light, or maybe, position yourself to shoot a semisilhouette. That’s exactly how I approached the two shots here, which were made within a few minutes of each other. Know what to expect. Know what you can do, and at what stage of the magic hour you can do it. Learn how to adapt, and be ready to react.

(top) 24-70@27mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 100 (bottom) 24-70@24mm, f/4, 1/200, ISO 200

(left) 50mm, f/2.2, 1/800, ISO 100 (right) 24-70@24mm, f/4, 1/200s, ISO 200

Potential for visual communication •

The golden hour light’s changing properties make it very flexible, and this helps us communicate in almost limitless ways.

When it paints everything golden with a red, orange, or yellow tint and makes colors look vivid, this is a boon for accentuating the beauty of your subjects. The mood from within the frame can feel uplifting, cheerful, even inspirational. With a distinct interplay of shadow and light, images can take on a more serious and dramatic tone.

When this light illuminates subjects from relatively straight on, we can communicate in a more literal manner, by drawing attention to what’s important, such as you can see in the left image. When strong shadows obscure the subject or when the subject becomes a silhouette, the communication becomes more ambiguous, minimalist, and symbolic, as in the image on the right.

The light’s capacity to sculpt can make details and textures pop out of the frame. This creates a sense of volume and can make the viewing experience more atmospheric and intense. Through sculpting we can also draw attention to the most important elements in the story, helping it be told more emphatically.

Perhaps the main limitation of the magic/golden hour light is that at least to some extent it tends to romanticize or beautify everything it illuminates. If your intended story is about hardship or has a more somber theme, it’s not the most ideal type of light. The image on the left illustrates the point well. The woman is performing hard manual labor, yet the hardship is disguised somewhat, as the light makes everything look cheerful, lively, and beautiful.


Light diffused by clouds When the sun is entirely obscured by clouds, the light becomes diffused,

• Light diffused by clouds is the most consistent kind of light. Everything it illuminates looks virtually the same from all angles.

soft and evenly distributed from

• It does not change direction, nor can it be directed.

every direction. This quality makes the light well suited for situations

• It’s soft, and does not create shadows—contrast is relatively soft as a result.

where skin tones need to look soft,

• Can be rather weak—subjects can look dark if the clouds are very heavy.

or when an entire scene needs to be

• Generally cloud-diffused light has a neutral effect on colors, but it can also make them appear dull, darken them, or give them a grayish tint, especially with heavy clouds.

lit evenly. While this light is generally not considered very exciting, it presents fewer challenges than some of the more dramatic types of light and this is another part of its appeal. (left) 24-70@50mm, f/5, 1/320s, ISO 400 (middle) iPhone f/2.4, 1/20s, ISO 250 (right) 20mm, f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 100



Light diffused by clouds Challenges and Solutions Challenge Images can look flat and boring.

How to deal with it Shooting RAW and post-processing can do a lot here. Simply increasing contrasts or levels of blacks in Lightroom can add a lot of impact to an image that might otherwise appear dull. Both images on this page had a good deal of tweaking in post-processing.

Challenge Contrast can be deceiving and can cause exposure problems, most commonly with shots involving the sky. When the sky is white or light gray, it’s easy to over-expose it, making it look completely blown out and lifeless. On the other hand, if we try to compensate too much for the sky we run the risk of under-exposing the subject, which may become too dark and lacking in detail.

How to deal with it Don’t go to any extremes of under- or over-exposing. Because the contrast is not as strong as it would be under harder light, the challenge is fairly easy to overcome. Exposing for the darker subject within the scene usually works best. The contrast likely won’t be so hard that you are unable to bring out the detail in the sky in post-processing software. Just remember that shooting in RAW format will always give you more room to work with.

(top) 24-70@60mm, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 400 (bottom) 16-35@16mm, f/2.8, 1/4000s, ISO 250

(left) 16-35@16mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100 (right) 24-70@43mm, f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 1000

Potential for visual communication •

Light diffused by clouds can create a serious, melancholic, or somber mood, but it doesn’t necessarily communicate these qualities with great strength on its own. The mood is felt more when there are supporting details in the frame, such as cloudy skies, stormy seas, and lots of cool, gray tones. The mood is strengthened even more if the subject matter is melancholic in nature or if there’s some sort of struggle or hardship being depicted. The photos above exemplify this. If none of the abovementioned details or subject matter are present within the frame, this light’s impact on mood becomes minimal. Scenes of some kinds of action taking place, for example, people at work or subjects that are dramatic and evocative in themselves—think of fascinating faces, objects, or patterns—are the next best thing to be photographed in this light. In such cases, although there might not be a strong sense of mood, the overall impact of the image can still be powerful. The interest in the subject matter compensates for weakening of mood.

This isn’t the best light for communicating cheerful, happy, lively scenarios. Our associations with gloomy, overcast weather are generally pessimistic and may detract from the intended lighthearted mood. Even if that’s not the case, the upbeat emotions just won’t be communicated as emphatically as they would in light during the golden hour.

The even spread and consistency of this light means that it can be effective when making images where a lot of detail needs to be seen to communicate the story. With the light on overcast days, no details get lost in the shadows, just observe how much detail and information is conveyed in both of the above photographs.

This light isn’t ideal where textures need to look dramatic, although they can be enhanced to some extent in post-processing, nor if you want to create a sense of volume or space. The straight-on, flat, somewhat dull light doesn’t accentuate textures and, because it doesn’t create shadows, it can’t effectively sculpt subjects to make them look three-dimensional.


Diffused natural light outdoors and indoors Natural light is diffused outdoors when we’re in the shade cast by anything from a wall to a tree canopy. It is diffused indoors when it indirectly penetrates the interior. Despite sharing the diffused, soft quality, there are differences between diffused lighting scenarios outdoors and indoors. The latter offers much more creative opportunities.

• Diffused light indoors and out is usually at least a little bit directional. Our capacity to direct it is much greater in darker, closed spaces with a distinct, narrow light source such as a window or other openings. • This light is much less directional, almost flat outdoors in fairly open spaces; for example, under a thick canopy of trees or in the shade of a large wall or a mountain. • Outdoors, shadows are virtually nonexistent. In closed spaces with narrow light sources, shadows can become pronounced and dramatic; in such circumstances we can create a progression of light to dark tones and sculpt the subjects, evoking the sense of volume. • In darker, closed spaces, when light is being directed, colors can appear more vivid and lively. The light is still diffused and has a neutral effect on color, but the relative darkness of the space and the dullness of the less illuminated elements make the colors that receive more illumination appear vivid, as the image on the right shows.

(left) 16-35@35mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 400 (middle) 16-35@16mm f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 500 (right) 16-35@24mm, f/2.8, 1/50, ISO 800 44


Diffused Natural Light Indoors And In The Shade Challenges and Solutions (Part I) Challenge The light might not be very intense, and it often presents the same problem as when shooting in low light at twilight, such as blurred movement or blur from camera shake.

How to deal with it The solutions are the same as for twilight: high ISO, fast shutter speed, lower f/stop value, tripod. If I’m taking a portrait I might ask the subject to stay still. With moving subjects, once again there’s not much we can do. Embracing the blur to communicate movement is a valid solution, which I took up for the top image of the flowing water. Indoors, the light might be brighter closer to the light source. If that’s the case, photograph closer to that light source, move your subject there, or wait till the subject gets closer to it, if taking the candid approach.

Challenge Mixed light sources, for example natural sunlight combined with a light-bulb or firelight.

How to deal with it Switch the light source off if possible. Get closer to the natural light source to overpower the artificial one. However, unless the artificial light is completely unworkable, I prefer to take advantage of the situation. This was the case with the image at the bottom: The scene is predominantly lit by diffused sunlight coming into the woman’s kitchen through a doorway, but light coming from the fire is what actually makes the shot.

(top) 24-70@24mm, f/6.3, 1/4s, ISO 100 (bottom) 16-35@16mm, f/2.8, 1/30s, ISO 3200


Diffused Natural Light Indoors And In The Shade Challenges and Solutions (Part II) Challenge This type of light can produce high contrasts. One example might be that part of the subject closer to the light source is too bright and the part further away is too dark. Another is that a subject indoors, lit by less–intense light, and scenery outdoors that is lit by diffused, yet much brighter light, such as in the top image run the risk in either case of a mild loss of detail in either the dark or the bright areas, depending on what is exposed for. As a more extreme example, very bright openings (windows, holes, gaps in the canopy, and the like) in relatively dark spaces most often result in complete loss of detail in either the dark or the bright areas.

How to deal with it Less extreme cases can be handled with a few post-processing steps, as was done with the top image (decreased Exposure and increased Fill light/Shadows in Lightroom). When an area is over-exposed due to its’ position in relation to the light source, it is also possible to adjust or direct the light by moving yourself or the subject, or waiting for the subject to move to a different spot in relation to the light source (more about this on page 58 (“Directing light”). The more extreme cases are a different matter. The best solution is generally to accept over-exposure of the aforementioned trouble areas. They rarely hold key details to the story and as such, their over-exposure doesn’t necessarily detract from the image. The exception is if they take up a large part of the frame. The line between what’s acceptable can be thin and subjective. The bottom photo, with the over-exposed striped windows is an example of an image with an over-exposed area that would be acceptable to most photographers confronted with this issue. When the over-exposed areas contain important detail and when the subject is still, HDR can be an effective solution.

(top) 20mm, f/1.8, 1/50s, ISO 1600 (bottom) 20mm, f/2.8, 1/400s, ISO 200

(left) 20mm, f/5, 1/60s, ISO 800 (right) 16-35@16mm, f/2.8, 1/80s, ISO 1250

Potential for visual communication •

Diffused light in outdoor shade is soft and doesn’t cast shadows. The effect it has on the mood is neutral by default. If a photograph shot in this kind of light is to convey any specific mood, it will depend largely on the subject matter, rather than the light.

Stories we tell in photographs that rely upon diffused light in the shade outdoors will be infinitely more interesting and emphatic if the subject matter is strong, such as some kind of action taking place or a face full of character. The photo on the left has both elements—there’s action and there are characters.

As with light on overcast days, this type of light can be particularly effective when details are important to the story we’re communicating. There are lots of details in the image on the left, and all of them add to the story. The spread and the softness of the light means that everything is illuminated evenly. The viewer can absorb those details and read into the story.

The kind of diffused light indoors which can be directed has the capacity to create scenarios that are intense, dramatic, dynamic, or even mysterious. It can be very atmospheric.

The progression of light to dark tones, which can be achieved with directed light indoors, can be used to create a sense of volume and three-dimensionality. This opens up a myriad of opportunities. We can accentuate textures, details and colors and transform fairly unremarkable subjects into fascinating ones; or make interesting subjects look particularly dramatic.

Multiple light sources indoors open up even more possibilities. The image on the right is illuminated by two light sources. As a result, there’s a sense of volume, the scene feels more intense, and that subtle light around the hair of both girls created by the back window adds extra atmosphere and depth.


Harsh daylight This section is about light produced outdoors, on bright sunny days. The time-frame for this light is from after the sun fully rises until just before it starts to set—in other words—during the brightest part of the day. While for many photographers harsh daylight is the most undesired kind of light to work with, it can be a powerful tool in the hands of a photographer who is fully aware of its characteristics, potential and limitations. (left) 16-35@20mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 100 (middle) 16-35@16mm, f/4.5 1/1000s, ISO 100 (right) 16-35@35mm, f/6.3, 1/500, ISO 100

• This type of light is extremely bright and very harsh. • It has a neutral effect on colors before the sun nears its peak. At the peak of the sun’s path the light begins to bleach colors, making them less vivid and lively. The sky starts to lose some of its blue, though this effect is seen more in some geographical locations than others. • It creates deep shadows and very strong contrasts at all times. When photographing people, the shadows can be particularly noticeable and prominent around the eyes. • This light can be directed to an extent, more so before the sun is at its peak. The directing is done by simply moving yourself and/or your subjects around. You’ll notice the effect of directing light this way through the shadows, which become more or less prominent. • This is not a romantic or a beautifying kind of light. Because of its harshness and casting of shadows, textured surfaces such as skin can appear rougher than they really are. • This light can create a sense of volume. While this effect is not as strongly felt as during the magic hour or in directed diffused light indoors, the harsh daylight is definitely not flat.



HARSH DAYLIGHT Challenges and Solutions (Part I) Challenge This light produces harsh shadows around faces and eyes.

How to deal with it I generally regard shadows in such cases in a creative manner. I don’t necessarily avoid them completely; rather, I brighten them a little in postprocessing software, usually by increasing the values in Fill light/Shadows, just to bring out some detail. If you want to soften the shadows at the time of the shoot, you can shoot in situations where there’s a natural reflector, reflecting light from approximately under your subject. Some examples are listed on page 61 (“Reflecting light”). To remove the shadows entirely, you can use a specially made reflector with bright, reflective coating. There’s more on both types of reflectors on page 61. In some cases it’s possible to move the subject to have light coming in at an angle that produces less shadows. That was my approach for the shot on this page, and I brightened the shadows afterwards in Lightroom.

16-35@35mm, f/4.5, 1/1000s, ISO 100

HARSH DAYLIGHT Challenges and Solutions (Part II) Challenge Colors can appear bleached as the sun approaches its peak.

How to deal with it On-camera filters can liven the color a little, to enhance the sky, but keep in mind that if you need to un-do the effect, you’ll spend a good bit of time, and likely frustration, on post-processing. My preferred option is to liven up colors solely with post-processing software. A simple increase in vibrance or saturation can make a world of difference. Ultimately, you can choose to use this light for what it is. Its properties are suitable for certain situations, such as the one in the top image. It’s a scene of a boy working in a harsh, sun-bleached environment—the right subject matter for light which bleaches colors.

Challenge Very high contrasts result in loss of detail in shadows or the brighter areas of an image.

How to deal with it Gradual neutral density or polarizing filters can darken the sky, hence reducing the contrast in landscapes. Shoot in RAW format, do not under- or over-expose shadows or highlights too much, and work on the image in post-processing software. Tweak Fill light/Shadows and Recovery/Highlights sliders in Lightroom, or work with layer masks in Photoshop. I did the former with the image here, bringing out detail in the areas which were getting lost due to shadows in some parts and because of very bright light in others. If the contrast is too great and your subject is stationary, HDR is the only effective solution.

(top) 16-35@21mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 100 (bottom) 16-35@23mm, f/2.8, 1/4000s, ISO 100

(left) 70-200@200mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO 640 (right) 16-35@16mm, f/4, 1/2000s, ISO 100

Potential for visual communication •

Whatever we shoot in this light will unavoidably have the “this was shot in bright daylight” feel. The light evokes a very distinct, harsh mood. The closer the sun is to nearing its peak, the more the colors are bleached and the harsher that mood becomes.

This light can work very well when textures need to look rough, as is evident in the image of the man’s rough feet and the rugged terrain in the image on the right.

It is the wrong kind of light when the goal is to soften and smooth textures. For example, it accentuates every wrinkle and imperfection on the human skin. You would avoid this light if you wanted to make the subject look flawless or glamorous.

This light is ideal for when you want to show something in a very authentic, everyday manner, devoid of romanticism. Stories with an element of hardship can be communicated emphatically, with the left image as an obvious example. The image on the right also fits the bill; while the landscape is beautiful, it is also clearly a harsh, sun-bleached environment and the light helps communicate this uncompromisingly.

It can communicate stories and create moods that are fairly upbeat, but the bleaching of the color palette prevents these moods from being as dominant or as intense as they could be with the light of the golden hour.

While it won’t romanticize or beautify anything, subjects that are beautiful may remain beautiful, albeit in a somewhat rugged or harsh way, as in the photograph on the right.


Light in fog There are two main types of lighting scenarios involving fog. One is produced on foggy days with heavy clouds and a total absence of direct rays from the sun. The other occurs when the fog is close to the ground and not very thick, while above the fog the sky is free of clouds. In the latter case, sun-rays can interact with the fog, to create a particular, sometimes spectacular effect.

(left) 24-70@45mm, f/7.1, 1/20, ISO 100 (middle) 28mm, f/2.8 1/1000s, ISO 400 (right) 70-200@200mm, f/5.6, 1/500s ISO 640

• Light in fog is very soft and not at all directional when the sun is blocked out by clouds. The contrasts are also very soft in such conditions. • When the fog interacts with rays of the sun (usually rising sun), the light remains soft, but the contrasts are higher. The light becomes directional, it’s stronger from the side of the sun, and hence some parts of a scene become brighter than others. • Fog causes elements to appear as if they are fading, the further away they are from the camera; the intensity of this effect depends on the strength of the fog. • Furthermore, this “fading effect” creates the appearance of layers within a scene. Some of the layers are clearly visible, some less so and others almost invisible. Such layers can add a real sense of depth to a photograph. • Fog fades colors. Distance from the camera and strength of the fog are the factors responsible for how much color fades. In heavy fog or when the subject is relatively far from the camera, the color palette can appear very limited, almost duo tone. • Fog has the potential to give colors a distinct tint, from gray and blue in regular fog, to orange and yellow when the fog interacts with rays of the sun. 52


LIGHT IN FOG Challenges and Solutions Challenge Light can be quite weak, which can present similar challenges to shooting in twilight or daylight diffused by clouds.

How to deal with it Follow the same steps as you would when shooting in the weaker types of light we’ve covered in previous pages and remember that challenges can frequently be turned into creative decisions. The silhouetted figure in the top photo serves as a good reminder of this.

Challenge Exposure can be tricky. Contrasts can be quite deceiving. Because our eyes perceive a much wider tonal range than the camera, and contrasts are generally not as high as in some other lighting scenarios, it’s easy to assume that what we see will translate to the image. The reality is that it’s also all too easy to over- or under-expose in such conditions.

How to deal with it Make a few test exposures and see what comes out closest to your needs. That helped me with the image at the bottom—the sky came out too bright in the first couple of exposures, but I adjusted the settings and came up with what I wanted. In more dynamic situations with moving subjects you’ll need to do this before you begin shooting. In more challenging situations, make sure to shoot in RAW format. Meter and expose with the expectation of expanding the dynamic range in postprocessing, as mentioned on page 17. In the types of light you’ll encounter in fog, you’ll generally not have situations where the contrast is so great that you can’t bring detail back with a few tweaks of the Exposure, Fill light/Shadows or Recovery/Highlights sliders in Adobe Lightroom.

(top) 24-70@38mm, f/2.8, 1/25s, ISO 1250 (bottom) 24-70@25mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO 400

(left) 85mm, f/2.8, 1/2500s, ISO 200 (right) 24-70@66mm, f/7.1, 1/1000s, ISO 100

Potential for visual communication •

Any lighting scenario in the fog has a very distinct look. The first thing people generally say when viewing shots taken in fog is along the lines of: “This photograph is very atmospheric.” It emphasizes how the image feels, as it’s the kind of light that rarely leaves the senses unaffected.

When sun-rays interact with the fog, the effect can become awe-inspiring and the sense of mood grows even stronger. The image on the right is a good example.

Almost any subject matter can make for an engaging photograph when shot in light on foggy days. Even if the subject isn’t very interesting, the sense of mood is very strong and the image still engages the viewer on some level.

In cases where fog doesn’t interact with sun-rays, when the subject is close to the camera and clarity is high, we can create effective images where details are an important part of the story. For example, in the image on the left side the details and patterns in the woman’s costume all contribute to the story, telling us about her culture. Because the light is soft and spread out, all of these details are illuminated evenly rather than being lost in the shadows or suffering due to high contrast.

When your subjects are further from the camera and deeper in fog, or when fog interacts with rays of the rising sun, the light won’t serve well in communicating stories where details and textures are important—any details will be lost in the fog.

Additionally, when there is an interaction of fog with the sun-rays, attention is usually diverted away from anything else. In such scenarios it’s wise not to depend on the details to drive the photograph and instead focus on shapes and outlines.


Working with natural light

If you have carefully followed the chapters we’ve covered up to this point, you’ll have developed a deep understanding of what natural light is capable of, how it works, and how we can use it to communicate visually. In this chapter it’s time to go beyond the theory of what we can do with natural light and to engage with the more practical perspective of how we can actually do it. We will examine how to diffuse natural light, how to direct it, and how to reflect it. We’ll then recognize natural light’s dynamic and elusive qualities and discover how to practically deal with them.

Working with natural light

Controlling light’s impact on the scene in front of you We cannot control natural light at its source, the sun, and ultimately, we don’t need to. What we need is to be able to control the light’s impact on the scene that we’re framing in the viewfinder, and there are numerous ways in which we can do that. You’ve already taken the first steps to doing this by learning about different types of light. You know their key characteristics and you understand how they will affect what’s within the frame. The most basic way in which you control the light’s impact is by choosing when to shoot. The “Quick guide to natural light” section should have already given you ideas of what type of light to expect and when to expect it. Of course, choosing the best time to shoot provides a very limited degree of control. The only power you have if the light isn’t right for your photograph is to wait for its quality to change, with the hope that you’ll get the effect you want eventually. We can have more control if we’re willing to change our position relative to the scene and sometimes compromise on the angle from which we capture that scene. As already hinted at in the section on light’s direction on page 21, we gain this control by understanding where and how to position ourselves and/or the subject in relation to the light sources. Shoot into the light and you end up with a silhouette, as I did in the top image. Having the light source behind gives you a pretty straight-on light, as in the image at the bottom. Go into the shade or indoors and the quality of light becomes completely different to when you’re outside. These simple decisions actually translate into myriad ways in which we can control the light’s impact on the scene we’re planning to photograph. These still have limitations, but certainly allow you much more flexibility than simply waiting for a different kind of lighting scenario to illuminate a scene. Over the next few pages we’ll have a closer look at how we can control light’s impact on a scene. (top) 24-70@24mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO 250 (bottom) 20mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO 100


Working with natural light

Diffusing light One of the primary ways to control the impact that light has on a scene is to diffuse that light. This is sometimes accomplished for us by nature. When the sun is blocked by clouds or fog, or when it is behind the horizon, during twilight, we get diffused light. However, nature’s diffusing of the light is not what we’re interested in here— we’ve covered this in earlier chapters on the subject. What’s of interest to us is the question of how we can diffuse light when nature makes it very bright and harsh. It’s actually very simple. As you’ve already gathered from the “Quick guide to natural light” chapter, all we need to do is to step out of direct sunlight into the shade of a tree, wall, or to go indoors. The two images on this page were both shot in diffused light. For both shots I made a very conscious decision to diffuse the light. For the top image, I asked the subject to step into the shade created by the wall of her house. For the bottom image, I asked if I could come indoors and diverted the action and the people there. In both cases I was avoiding shooting in harsh daylight because this light would give the photos a very distinct rough mood, which is the opposite of what I wanted to achieve. You can also diffuse light when there aren’t any walls or canopy. This is done with human-made diffusers, which are usually portable, bendable frames overlaid with materials such as satin. To diffuse light over the subject you’re shooting, you simply need to find an angle from where the diffuser casts a shadow where you need it to. The size of the shadow will depend on the size of the diffuser, which can vary greatly in this regard and also depends on how far away it’s held from the subject. One obvious limitation of diffusing light in either of these ways is the fact that we can only find shade or create shade over relatively small subjects. We cannot create a shade over a mountain or a large tree, and this is one of the simple realities of working with natural light: It can be challenging and limiting.

(top) 70-200@182mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO 400 (bottom) 16-35@18mm, f/2.8, 1/80, ISO 1600


1 Working with natural light


2 Directing light As we’ve established, we don’t direct natural light at its source; rather, we direct ourselves and/or the subject in relation to the light source. Here’s a little exercise to help you understand the concept better: Find a room with a window allowing fairly bright diffused (indirect) light. Get your subject to move to different spots in relation to the window. Move around with the subject, take photos, and pay attention to what effect the movement of both of you has on the way that light makes the subject look.

2 1. The subject is turned at approximately 45° towards the window. 2 Result: A very smooth progression of light to dark tones. (16-35@35mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 2000) 2. Subject is at 90° or parallel to the window. Result: Very harsh contrast between the side of the face close to the window and the side further away from the window. (16-35@35mm, f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 500) 3. The subject is at 90°, parallel to the window, with his head turned towards it. Result: Light still works the same way, but instead of one side of the face being dark, the face is well lit and it is the back of my nephew’s head which is dark. (16-35@35mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 500)

From page 55

I did this exercise with my little nephew. Below are the images and corresponding diagrams of where the subject was in relation to the light source. On the right are the explanations of what we did and what impact that had, as well as the Exif information.


From page 55

Note: Having a light source such as a window also gives you control over the intensity of light. The further away you are from the light source, the less intense it is. Less intensity also means less contrast between light and dark.


From page 55


From page 13


Working with natural light

More on directing light To further your understanding of natural light in a more fluid situation, outdoors, where we can potentially direct it in countless ways, here is another exercise you can do. This time, go outdoors into an open area without shade on a sunny day, at sunset. Again, ask the subject to move around to different spots in relation to the sun, moving around with him or her and taking photos as you do so. Above are some photos I came up with at different stages of the magic hour. These are good examples of the more typical ways in which you can direct light in similar situations. There are many in-between nuances, but you can get a good idea of what’s possible from these.



This exercise is also very easy to do. I asked my wife to be my model, but, you can even use an object, preferably one big enough to reflect the light’s changing effect.

1. T  he setting sun is not yet directly behind the subject; it illuminates the subject at an angle and from above. Notice that I’ve framed the sun out of the shot, which has reduced contrasts and created what could be termed a semi-silhouette, with some detail in the shadows. (70-200@123mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 100)


2. T  he sun is getting closer to the horizon, behind me, and is illuminating the subject’s face from virtually front on. The light is evenly spread over the face. Here, a longer lens helped me keep some distance from the subject, in order to avoid having my own shadow in the frame. (70-200@150mm, f/6.3, 1/200, ISO 100)

3. Light comes from the side, sculpting the face. Notice how the face is brightly lit on the right side and progresses to becoming dark on the left side. (70-200@100mm, f/6.3, 1/160s, ISO 100)


4. The sun is backlighting the subject, and when I expose for the bright part of the scene (the sky around the sun), the subject becomes a silhouette. (70-200@70mm, f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 100)

TIP: For good silhouette images, you need to create separation between the subject and everything below the horizon line. To create separation here, I asked my wife to stand on a rock while I got down to angle the upwards camera in such a way that most of her figure would be above the horizon line.


section heading here

4 2


5 3

1. The most intense light source is the main doorway. It creates the outline of light around the back of the man’s head.

16-35mm@28mm, f/2.8, 1/32s, ISO 2000

Multiple light sources

2. Two small windows provide more light from behind, at an angle. They are responsible for that fine bright outline at the top of the man’s head.

Lighting scenarios with multiple light sources only occur in interiors with multiple openings from which light enters, or in the presence of reflective surfaces, whether they are manufactured or natural (see the following page).

3. A second doorway provides light from behind, at an angle. It is responsible for the bright outline at the bottom of the man’s beard, as well as adding to the general brightness in the church.

These scenarios are generally significantly more difficult to deal with than those on the previous couple of pages. A section of the image often ends up being too dark or too bright, losing much of the detail and rendering the image unusable. When handled effectively, however, multiple light sources can lead to some very strong, dramatic results.

4. A small window is responsible for adding light to the scene and illuminating the side of the man facing the camera.

While I was photographing the scene in the image above, a step in the wrong direction could have resulted in a total loss of detail in the dark areas of the frame or in disturbing, over-exposed sections, particularly around the doorway behind the man. I had to direct the light by aligning myself at just the right angle in relation to the subject, the windows, and doors in the church. 60

5. The book reflects light from the main doorway and is partially responsible for adding a little light to the man’s face.

REMEMBER: In situations like these, you might need to meter on multiple elements that are at most contrast to each other, then make your own calculations for how to expose the shot. In this case I metered on the man’s face and on the book. I exposed the shot favoring the man’s face as the more important but still slightly under-exposed it so that the book would not turn out completely burnt-out white. I brought back the detail in post-processing software.

Working with natural light

Reflecting light There are two ways in which we can reflect natural light. The first way is to work with whatever reflective surfaces are available. In the image on the previous page, the book was that reflective surface, albeit only slightly reflective. In the case of the image at the top of this page, that reflective surface was water. Anything flat and bright-coloured will reflect light to various degrees. Other examples are bright snowy ground, a white wall, or even sand at a beach on a very sunny day. Making use of light reflected off surfaces that are found in everyday life simply involves being aware of which surfaces are reflective and then consciously photographing around those. Doing this doesn’t necessarily give you much control over where the light is being reflected. Generally, you’re just working with the circumstances that have been dealt to you. If you recognize that light is being reflected, simply take advantage of it and play around. Usually the best purpose of light reflected in such a manner is to serve as a fill light, which is great for softening shadows or just making an object look brighter. It can also look interesting and create an atmospheric effect, such as the glow which can be seen in the photograph of the boy in the water. Another way to reflect light is to work with a portable reflector, as was the case with the image at the bottom. The most convenient of such reflectors are collapsible and have differently coated surfaces such as gold, silver, white, or a combination of silver/gold. In such cases, each side will give the reflected light a certain tint. A reflector with different surfaces can be a powerful creative-lighting tool. We can use it to create a fill light, as well as simulate various types of light —for example, the gold-coated surface will simulate the light of the golden hour, as was the case with the image here. The silver surface will simulate the fairly neutral daylight, while the silver/gold side will achieve something in between. Perhaps most importantly from a practical and creative point of view is the fact that the reflector gives us the most straightforward means of directing light, which opens up a whole lot of opportunities. Note: For a more practical look at the reflector, see “Case study #9” on page 91.


(top) 24-70@24mm, f/7.1, 1/400s, ISO 100 (bottom) 28mm, f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 200

Working with natural light

Dealing with natural light’s dynamic nature

Does the light help me communicate what I want?

Natural light is in a constant state of change; we cannot escape that. As we’ve discussed, it changes due to the time of day, the weather, in accordance to your and the subject’s position in relation to the light source, and due to myriad other factors.


How long might I wait to have the light change in my favour?

It’s understandable to want a quick answer to dealing with the dynamic nature of natural light, but there isn’t just one answer. Rather, there are a few, and they should all stem from one question: “Does the light available in the scene help you communicate what you want?” Here’s a diagram which represents my own thought process when I’m dealing with particularly dynamic lighting scenarios. It will give you an idea of what questions you should be asking yourself in similar situations, and will help you make the appropriate decisions to ensure the outcome you want.

Take advantage and shoot!


Long time

Is there anything nearby that might work in the light I have been dealt?

Can I change the lighting scenario in my favour?


Not long


Change it


Move on Yes


Photograph that as an alternative


Working with natural light

Examples of dynamic natural light in action The situations I encountered with the images here are the embodiment of the diagram on the previous page. The case with the top photograph was pretty straightforward. I was in a restaurant with this amazing view as sunset was nearing. The scene would look spectacular if it were illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, but there were some light clouds in the sky, which blocked the sun. With the sun blocked it was impossible to communicate the drama, the beauty, and the magic of the place very effectively. Because the clouds were relatively thin, I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait long for things to turn in my favour. With nothing else to photograph nearby that would work in the overcast kind of light, I simply postponed my meal, got myself to the best vantage point to photograph this scene, and waited for nature to work its magic, which, as you can see, it eventually did. The image at the bottom presented a situation where the lighting scenario became dynamic because of the light’s interaction with moving subjects. The light came through the tunnel of a church chamber and illuminated a specific spot inside that chamber. The chamber was extremely dark and nothing was visible anywhere outside of the spot. However, once someone entered the spot, a dramatic lighting effect took place. Thankfully for me, hundreds of pilgrims were entering the chamber and coming through the tunnel into the main church compound. They all had to move through the illuminated spot at some stage. For the dramatic lighting effect to occur, I only had to wait for some of the pilgrims to align favorably. I positioned myself at the vantage point that I considered ideal for the shot and waited for various groups to enter the spot and be illuminated by the light from the tunnel. I pressed the shutter button whenever I felt I might have what I wanted: A combination of dramatic light and interesting subjects.

Technical tip: In both cases I used the Manual Mode on the camera to get the exact exposure I wanted. While the lighting situations were dynamic, they weren’t changing so quickly that I couldn’t dial in the correct settings. When this is the case, it’s worth setting the camera on a more automated mode such as Aperture Priority in order to allow yourself time to adjust to make a usable exposure. This can sometimes mean the difference between an image made and a lost opportunity.

(top) 70-200@70mm, f/8, 1/320s, ISO 400 (bottom) 16-35@25mm, f/2.8, 1/25s, ISO 3200

Working with natural light

Dealing with elusive light The image on this page is a good example of the very dramatic lighting scenario that can occur with natural light. Scenarios such as this one present amazing photo opportunities, but most of us don’t encounter them regularly in our day-to-day life. As a result, many of us tend to approach situations like these unprepared, depending solely on luck to create a strong image. Unsurprisingly, the photos either don’t capture the light effectively or are mediocre in regards to everything but light. So how can we deal with these elusive lighting scenarios effectively? We have to return to observing light—in images, in life, and basically everywhere we see it. We need to educate ourselves in order to understand under what circumstances these elusive, dramatic lighting scenarios occur. This grounding allows us to anticipate and hence to position ourselves favorably or to find the best subject matter for a photograph, if a potentially dramatic lighting scenario does come into being. We also need to understand how the light, which might look amazing in real life, will translate through

70-200@145mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO 100 a photograph. Because cameras don’t even come close to capturing a scene the way our eyes do, we have to learn how to see the light in these cases the way the camera does. We must know what settings to dial in and what angle to shoot from. For this we simply have to go

out and photograph in dramatic lighting scenarios as much as possible. Whenever I see a lighting scenario that strikes me as particularly dramatic and I’m not in a position to photograph any really worthwhile subject, I just shoot the light. I do this for the purpose of training my eye.

The aim of learning about what causes the light, and how to see it the way the camera does, is to leave the fumbling behind and to be prepared to make the most of the opportunity to shoot in dramatic light if or when it arises.


Working with natural light

Examples of dealing with elusive light Let’s look at a couple of photographs that illustrate the relevance of what I was talking about on the last page in real life. Churches are actually a common place to find light beaming through windows. The ingredients necessary for this lighting phenomena to occur are strong light outdoors penetrating the interior via a narrow opening and striking the dust floating around in the air. As soon as I entered the church in the image on this page, I realized that the ingredients were just right for the “magic beaming light”. Of course, light alone may not have been enough for a strong image. Because I understood what conditions would cause this light, I knew that I could potentially find the phenomena occurring in an interesting setting that would make for a truly engaging image. I walked around, searching for such a setting, and ended up shooting in the place you see in the photograph. The other lesson I learned from past observations was that the light beams were more prominent from some angles and less so from others. When I encountered the scenario in the image, I consciously looked for the spot from where the light beam would be most prominent and dramatic. I initially saw the scene in the second image from a different angle than the one I shot from. Initially it didn’t look as dramatic, but the animals had kicked up a lot of dust to the air and the sun was setting. I knew that these were the elements for what was potentially a very dramatic lighting scenario. My prior knowledge again allowed me to take advantage of this quickly unfolding scene. I knew where to position myself to get a shot that worked well. I had to run in front of the herd to be able to photograph them while pointing the camera towards the sun. This would cause the dust to turn golden. I didn’t shoot directly into the sun because I didn’t want hard, dark silhouettes; I wanted semi-silhouettes and nice bright rims of light around the outlines of the animals and the people. Instead of shooting straight into the sun, I stood up, tilted the camera very slightly down, and got the effect I was looking for. The general point of the examples and the stories I’ve shared is that even though some lighting scenarios might be more rare than others, they are still possible to “read” and prepare for. As with anything, the more knowledge and experience we have, the better prepared we are.


(top) 220mm, f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 800 (bottom) 70-200@150mm, f/11, 1/400s, ISO 200

Case studies

Analyzing and deconstructing how other photographers use light in their work is one of the best ways to learn about the topic and to develop a deeper understanding of it. I’ve already encouraged you to do something similar in the exercise on page 13. It is now time to take the idea further. The case studies are a behind-the-scenes-look at how I worked with natural light during the making of nine different photographs, with widely varying lighting scenarios. In them, I cover the entire process: ideas behind the photos, diagrams and light-related post-processing steps. The aim of this chapter is to bring together the concepts I’ve introduced throughout the ebook and to show you how it all works in practice, in real life.

Case Study 1: Silhouettes over water at sunset 24-70@24mm, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 125

In Moluptatur amusam voloritatam que alicipi dundent rae. Et landa cum, Faccusam, cores expe nos ea quia volorro et ma quas exere, autest, que sitatem il imos non con expla voluptae cusanimuscid quide vene dolum volorit quatem

In Moluptatur amusam voloritatam que alicipi dundent rae. Et landa cum, Faccusam, cores expe nos ea quia volorro et ma quas exere, autest, que sitatem il imos non con expla voluptae cusanimuscid quide vene dolum volorit quatem.

Case studies

Background info A couple of weeks on a tiny island in Vanuatu inspired me to effectively use light as a creative tool for this photo. Spending plenty of time in a location allows one to become familiar with what lighting scenarios to expect, and to learn of the possibilities in the choice of subject matter appropriate for those types of light.

3 1

On this particular island there is a channel that separates it from a bigger island. Local children play in that channel every afternoon, and the sun sets in the perfect spot for photographing this subject during the magic hour. I found that from one side the sun made everything look golden. From another I could shoot silhouettes. My only potential obstacle was the clouds which sporadically blocked out the sun. However, during the time of year I was there, the clouds never remained for long nor were thick enough to block the sun entirely. I knew that I had at least a few good stretches of time to photograph in the golden light.

2 2

Light-related objectives Deconstructing the lighting scenario

My general aim was to photograph the children playing in the golden light. I wanted to communicate a fun, lively and dynamic mood, which is easily conveyed with the light of the golden/magic hour.

1. Setting sun is backlighting the subjects, shining directly into the camera. The backlight is what’s responsible for 1 the silhouettes, as long as I expose for the brighter parts of the scene.

My objective became more specific when I saw the boys doing somersaults off of each other’s backs, and I realized that the lighting conditions were potentially suitable for a dramatic silhouette photo.

2. Water is slightly reflecting the sun, creating 2 a bit of separation from the dark, nonreflective subject.

Light’s role in visual communication •

The setting sun creates silhouetted, minimalist representations of the figures, with a strong, visually appealing graphic element.

The warm, vibrant colors caused by the light convey a positive mood. The light, the subject matter, and the action are appropriately fitting to an atmosphere of joy, playfulness, and excitement.

The darkness of the silhouetted figures adds a sense of drama and, when combined with the subject matter, make the scene feel dynamic.


3. Clouds partially blocking the sun prevent that part of the sky from being extremely over-exposed. It is generally impossible to photograph the sun without over-exposing it too much or under-exposing everything else within the scene, until it is almost upon the horizon line.


Method and explanation

Light-related post-processing steps

Some clouds blocked the sun during its final stages of descent. I had only a few minutes to shoot before the sun disappeared below the horizon. The likelihood that the clouds would part and that I’d get a moment of pure, golden or orange light was slim. The lighting conditions and the scene of the boys doing somersaults made it a no-brainer to position myself in the place to make silhouette photos. The clouds over a part of the sun actually meant that I wouldn’t have a large, over-exposed spot within the frame, which was an appealing idea to me.

I like to stay on the safe side when it comes to exposing a photograph. I try to expose in a way where that yields the highest possible amount of detail wherever I might need it. This gives me more scope to work with in postprocessing, but it also means that the images can come out a little less rich, with lower levels of blacks and lower contrasts than I ultimately prefer.

As mentioned on page 59, good silhouette photos require separation between the subject and the horizon, or they risk blending together. The exception is when the surface below the horizon line is reflective. That was the case here, but I still wanted to capture as much of the boys as possible against the lit-up sky, rather than against the water. The strong contrast between their dark silhouetted figures and the bright sky played a big part in adding a sense of drama to the image.

To make the photograph slightly more dramatic I made the Shadows and the Darks darker with the Tone Curve sliders in Lightroom and also increased the Blacks.

The above step made a part of the water excessively dark, so I brightened that area a little with the Exposure Adjustment Brush in Lightroom.

I made a very subtle expansion of dynamic range in the area around the sun and the cloud. It was a bit too bright straight out of the camera, so I darkened it with the Exposure Adjustment Brush in Lightroom.

I was in the water, my camera in a housing. To achieve the desired shot, I pointed my camera at the action and got down as low as I could without submerging the lens and blocking the scene with the water. 69

Case Study 2: Light beams and multiple light sources 24-70@25mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 1250

Case studies

Background info Over a few afternoons I photographed training sessions in a traditional Indian wrestling school. The training took place in a pit, which 3 was filled with soil and sand. The constant action resulted in sand particles filling the air. Those sand particles were illuminated by sun-rays penetrating through some of the windows, later in the afternoons. The particles and the sun-rays were the 1 ingredients that produced distinct beams of light and caused a very dramatic lighting scenario.


Light-related objectives


In this situation I sought to use light to communicate the drama, and to give a sense of the space and of the atmosphere within it. On a more specific note, capturing at least one of the light beams pouring through the 2window was vital to conveying that atmosphere.

Light’s role in visual communication •

The subtle, bright outlines around the larger wrestler’s back and leg and around a part of the body of the wrestler behind him contribute to the sculpting effect and add to the sense of volume and three-dimensionality.

The bright spots of light from windows 2 and 3 and from the light beams give the otherwise moderately lit scene a luminous quality. They inevitably lead the eye around the frame, to different parts of the training room, adding to the sense of space.


Deconstructing the lighting scenario

The light beams add an element of drama and create a dynamic and somewhat surreal atmosphere. Their element of beauty also visually counters the roughness in the actions of the wrestlers.

The side light (1) sculpts the front wrestlers’ bodies,1 helping to communicate the strength in those bodies. The sculpting effect also adds a general sense of volume to the scene.


1. These windows provide two different types of light: the direct, strong light beams and the diffused, indirect light beyond those light beams. The latter 1 is responsible for sculpting the subjects near the window, as long as they are outside of the light beams.


2. Diffused, indirect light from these two windows is responsible for illuminating the middle-left part of the room and for the subtle outlines around the backs of the wrestlers. 3. Diffused, indirect light from two windows illuminates the back-left part of the room and sculpts the wrestlers sitting 2 in the audience. 4. This light source doesn’t have much obvious effect on the scene, except for adding general brightness to the rear of it. There is no light beam coming through the source because a wall is blocking direct sun-rays from entering that window.


Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

Making the most of multiple-source lighting scenarios such as this one requires a good understanding of what to expect from the light. It took me an afternoon to gain this. As I mentioned, sometimes I shoot the light itself, to learn and to understand. That’s what I did here.

The main aim here was to get the entire scene looking dynamic and dramatic and to have the light beam looking as pronounced as possible, without making it look unrealistic.

I learned when there was enough sand in the air for the light beams to form, from where they were most distinct to how the wrestlers would look directly under that beam of light and elsewhere. By the following afternoon I understood quite well how light “worked” in this situation, within this space. My mind was then able to quickly calculate in order to tell me where I needed to be in accordance to the scenarios that played out in front of me. This meant that I could focus on combining dramatic light and dramatic moment into one solid photograph. Despite knowing that the light beams were more visible from the opposite angle, when one of the more photogenic wrestlers entered the pit I ran into the corner, to have a better view of him in action. I felt that having a lesser (but still good) view of the light beam in exchange for a great view of the action would result in a better all-around image. A few minutes after waiting in the same spot for something to happen I eventually captured this shot.

To give the overall image a more punchy and dynamic overall feel, I used the Tone Curve in Lightroom and made the Blacks look deeper and the contrasts stronger.

To bring out more detail and to make the main wrestler look more dramatic I used the Adjustment Brush and increased the Exposure in the shadow areas on his body as well as increasing Clarity around his muscles. I used Photoshop for some dodging in the highlight areas, particularly around the forehead and the shoulders.

To emphasize the light beam I painted inside it with the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom, increasing values in Clarity, Exposure and Contrast. A good amount of dodging was done in Photoshop to fine-tune the effect.

For a general expansion of the dynamic range I used the Exposure Adjustment Brush to bring down the excessive brightness in the background area with the man looking through the window. 72

Case Study 3: Elusive light and the magic dust cloud 70-200@200mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 100

Case studies

Background info 1

Years of travelling dusty rural roads have taught me one important lesson: 3 and sunsets can lead to some very dramatic lighting effects for dust photography (also see page 65 (“Examples of dealing with elusive light”). Whenever the sun is setting and there’s a chance3that dust will be kicked up into the1air by potential action in the scene, I stop whatever I am doing and wait to see if the situation might turn in my favor.

4 1

This was one of the cases where the ingredients were all in place for something special to happen. I stopped, waited, 2 and was eventually rewarded.


2 Light-related objectives My main objective was to utilize the tones and colors that the light of the setting sun brought to create a positive, romantic and beautiful image of life in the countryside. I didn’t specifically aim to photograph children kicking up dust, but I did want my photograph to have a golden dust cloud, for no other reason than for the fact that it looked beautiful and magical.

1 Light’s

role in visual communication

The light of the setting sun bathes the whole scene in shades of gold. This color palette is2 evocative of positive emotions and sets a lively mood. It makes everything appear romantic and beautiful.

The golden dust cloud adds to the beauty of the scene and causes some of the children to fade into the distance. This helps communicate a sense of volume, depth, and space.

The semi-silhouette effect on the figures “hides” their race and any details in clothing that otherwise might hint at the location of the scene allowing a universal and timeless feel.


Deconstructing the lighting scenario



1. The setting sun is not yet illuminating the subjects directly from behind; rather, it is a little above them. This results in something of a semi-silhouette effect and subtle, golden 2 outlines around the heads of some of the children.


2. A cloud of dust is kicked up into the air. The rays of the setting sun illuminate it at just the right angle to turn it into a cloud of “golden” dust. Important note: Notice how I have framed out the sun and some of the area near it. There is a very good reason for this: The sun and the surrounding area are extremely bright, and including them into the frame would either mean that I’d have a bright, over-exposed spot in the photo or that1 I’d have to meter and expose for that area and risk leaving the rest of the scene in complete darkness.


Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

The seed for this photo was planted when I noticed a group of women and donkeys returning from a water pump in remote Ethiopian countryside, kicking up dust around the area you see in the frame. I recognized the potential for a beautiful image and decided to stick around to see what would happen. There were other villagers by the water pump and I anticipated that even more would come, giving me further chances for a photo.

The main aim when working on this image was to accentuate the sense of drama created by the setting sun’s interaction with the airborne dust created.

More villagers and donkeys did in fact come and go, kicking up dust along the way, but none of those shots turned out the way I wanted. Either the dust cloud was too small or the figures weren’t aligned in a compositionally interesting manner. The final image you see here is a combination of awareness and readiness meeting luck. My presence attracted a group of curious children. Not knowing what to expect from a foreigner, they initially hid behind the tree, but they couldn’t resist eventually approaching me. When I noticed their figures on the horizon I lifted my camera. This surprised the children, but in confusion and excitement, they started to run away, laughing and kicking up a large cloud of dust, giving me exactly what I wanted photographically.

To make the scene look a little more dramatic and dynamic, I lowered the overall Exposure in Lightroom and increased Contrasts, while darkening the Shadows with the Tone Curve. The cloud of dust was made more pronounced and brighter by painting with the Adjustment Brush and increasing Clarity and Exposure (Lightroom).

To fine-tune the effects made in Lightroom, I created a more dramatic version of the image in Photoshop (more curves and an increase in contrast). I turned this image into a layer, created a layer mask inside it, and heightened the dramatic areas wherever I felt necessary. I gave more contrast to the figures and the ground, darkened the tree, and further brightened the cloud of dust.

A small expansion of dynamic range was performed in the very bright bit of dust around the middle. I darkened this area by painting in it with the Exposure Adjustment Brush.


Case Study 4: Communicating hardship with harsh light 16-35@16mm, f/5, 1/1000s, ISO 100

Case studies

Background info A significant number of photographers avoid shooting in the harsh sunlight around the midday hours. This kind of light doesn’t make anything look pretty, and it poses a lot of challenges. But, remember what I said about light being a creative tool for communicating visually—there’s no reason to avoid any kind of lighting scenario, if it can help you communicate what you need. I took my own advice and photographed these Himalayan road workers in the harsh light produced around midday.

1 2

Light-related objectives This image is about the harsh realities of manual labour. It’s not meant to look pretty. I wanted the hard light and its qualities to convey the hardships of these men, and to show their situation in a raw form, without romanticizing it. A very specific objective I had at the time of the shoot was to expose the scene in such a way that I could show the details and the expression on the face of the front worker, who had a shadow over him. The challenge was to do that without severely over-exposing the bright clouds. I didn’t want the clouds looking unnatural, like big, white, featureless blotches in the sky.

Deconstructing the lighting scenario 1

Light’s role in visual communication •

The harsh, midday sunlight is very distinct. On a very basic level it informs us of the time the scene in the image took place. Beyond that, the combination of this light and the subject matter—men working out in the open, in harsh surroundings—also alludes to the tough conditions of the scorching sun, heat, fatigue and thirst.

The light’s bleaching effect means there aren’t any vivid, lively colors, just a toned-down palette, emptied of excitement. These colors are reflective of the hardships of these men’s situation. They help keep the mood fairly somber and serious.

The contrast and shadows this light creates add an element of drama, without even the slightest hint of romanticism, as might have been added if I’d shot the same scene during the golden hour.

1. The midday sun is above and slightly behind the men. Light from this position results in shadows on the men’s faces. The shadows become larger anytime they bend down. Bleached colors, harsh contrasts, and a high level of overall brightness are all results of the light source (the sun) being where it is. 2. White clouds reflect the hard sunlight. This doesn’t visually affect much of what’s happening below, but it does present the challenge of high contrasts anytime we have dark 2 elements within the frame, which was the case here.


Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

I have alluded multiple times to the main issue brought about by harsh sunlight around midday. The potentially high contrasts can make the task of achieving the correct exposure of all the elements within a scene challenging —at times even impossible.

With much of the detail not visible in the shadows on the faces, the main goal was to bring back that detail. I also wanted to have the image closer to how I saw the scene in real life: not overly de-saturated and bleached, as it came out directly from the camera.

It was in fact impossible in this case to have the dark faces and the bright clouds exposed correctly straight out of the camera. To make the image work, expansion of the dynamic range after the moment of capture was necessary. I had to shoot with a strong consideration for post-processing. I exposed for the clouds because the risk of losing detail in them was higher. This meant deliberately under-exposing the faces.

To bring out the detail in the faces I increased the values of the Fill light/ Shadows slider in Lightroom. For some finishing touches I turned to Photoshop and did a bit of Dodging around the cheeks, eyes, and teeth of the man on the left.

To accomplish the main part of the job in the step above, I could also have made over- and under-exposed versions of the image and then used them to create a pseudo HDR image in Photomatix.

To bring back some color into the sky I used Lightroom to slightly increase the Saturation in the Blues.

To emphasize detail in the mud I used the Adjustment Brush and slightly increased Clarity and Contrast in Lightroom.

Previous experience taught me how much I could under-expose the dark areas before losing the detail in them for good. Thankfully the threshold was right around the point at which the brightest part of the clouds was exposed correctly. I ended up capturing an image which was properly exposed for the brightest elements, and retained just enough data in the dark areas to brighten them and to bring out the details in post-processing software.


Case Study 5: Accentuating the beauty of everyday life through the color-and-light-show of twilight 16-35@16mm, f/2.8, 1/100s, ISO 800

Case studies

Background info Scattered (not very thick) clouds on the side of the setting sun are a sign that a few minutes after the sun sets there is potential for a spectacular display of 1 light and color.


Outdoor scenes that look beautiful during sunsets, can look even more beautiful and evocative during those few minutes of twilight when the sun 2 below the horizon paints the cloudy sky with colors, ranging from purple to orange. I can attest to experiencing this numerous times, for situations similar to the one in the image. The light-and-color-shows that occurred almost daily over the month that I stayed near the fishing village on the island of Panay in the Philippines proved that there was much reason not to delay packing away the camera once the sun had set.


Light-related objectives Fishermen packing their nets against the colorfully painted sky reflected in the sea was something that I witnessed every other day. Yet the scene captivated me every time. My aim was to convey the beauty and the magic of this common occurrence in a dramatic manner.

Deconstructing the lighting scenario

Light’s role in visual communication •

A light-and-color-show in the twilight sky is a phenomenon which is beautiful, magical, and even mystical. A photograph involving such a powerful element rarely leaves viewers indifferent.

The cool tinting effect and the color palette of purples, blues, and pinks conjure feelings of excitement and calmness simultaneously. It sets a very distinct mood unique to such lighting scenarios.

Pointing the camera in the direction of the bright sky results in high contrasts between bright and dark tones. The overall low intensity of light at this time means that much of the complexity, details, and textures in the darker areas is not visible. This, together with the subject matter, creates an image that communicates in a minimalist and ambiguous way. Similarly to the image of the running children on page 73, the light’s concealing of elements that would otherwise convey the time and 2 location of the scene gives the image a universal, timeless feel.


1. Scattered clouds reflect the sun-rays from below the horizon. The bright, cloudy sky becomes the main light source, giving everything a tint of the same colors as the clouds. 2. Water and wet sand reflect the colorful sky, separating the dark figures from the darker areas below the horizon.

1 2 80

Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

I was familiar with similar scenes in comparable lighting scenarios and had a very clear idea of what to expect. My window of opportunity to make images of fishermen packing their nets while the sky looked dramatic was only a few minutes. Photographic decisions had to be made quickly.

An image like this doesn’t require much post-processing, if it is exposed close to correctly. My only task here was to do some fine-tuning.

To convey the special atmosphere that this colorful twilight sky created, I had to point the camera in its direction and to make it the prominent feature of the image. The consequences of this decision were high contrasts and lack of detail in all the elements except for the sky. In this case, such consequences were acceptable. A less literal, but more dramatic and possibly even mystical representation of the scene is what I was aiming for.


To separate the man on the left a little more from the area below the horizon, I slightly brightened the area around him, with the Exposure Adjustment Brush in Lightroom.


To make the image a tiny bit more dramatic, I increased the overall amount of Clarity in Lightroom.

My only concern was the possibility of having the dark elements (figures, boat, net) blending with the darker areas below the horizon and becoming indistinguishable. The reflective water in the sea was bright enough not to pose a risk, but the area in the bottom-left corner of the frame was not. Thankfully, the problem could be avoided thanks to the water and white froth that entered the darker area every few seconds when a wave crashed on shore. This photo is the result of a couple of minutes of anticipating and shooting. 81

Case Study 6: Everyday scenes with diffused, sculpting light 16-35@31mm, f/3.5, 1/500s, ISO 500

Case studies

Background info



The image was taken in a traditional Tibetan home-stay in Spiti Valley, India. Whenever the light was bright enough, yet diffused (with no direct sun-rays entering the room) the area near the window (2) became a potential setting for 2 dramatically lit, sculpted scenes of everyday life.


It’s unusual for me to include the actual light source into these kinds of photographs. However, in this case, it was part of the story. The woman was looking through the window to watch her son leave for the city. Including the window/light source, which was much brighter than many of the elements in the room, posed the challenge of dealing with high contrasts. 2

Light-related objectives I have mentioned the potential effects of diffused, side light from a window a few times throughout the chapters. My main aim was to let this light work its magic on what it illuminated.


What I didn’t want was to lose detail in the important bright or dark elements in the scene. This was a real possibility due to the high contrasts created by the inclusion of the light source into the photograph. My main worry was overexposing the1 brightest parts (window, curtain) and losing detail to a point where I couldn’t bring it back in post-processing software. While this loss might be acceptable at times, I felt that in this case, large, white blotches would be distracting and could kill the atmosphere in the scene.

Light’s role in visual communication •


Deconstructing the lighting scenario 1. The morning sun has just risen. The sun is far from the side of the house with the windows and it is just strong enough to produce enough light to illuminate the scene through the main window (2).

The progression of light-to-dark tones or the sculpting effect accentuates the textures in the woman’s face and in both subjects’ costumes. The effect gives the scene a sense of volume, space, and, to put it in more general terms, brings some life to it.

2. Moderately bright, diffused side-light from this window is responsible for the sculpting effect; because it is rather weak it fades quickly away from the light source. 2

The light’s fading properties mean that everything further away from the window disappears into darkness. While there aren’t many elements in the darker part of the frame to deal with here it’s worth remembering for other scenarios that distracting objects can be made less noticeable by taking advantage of these qualities.

3. The sun’s location on the opposite side of the house and the lack of intensity at this time translates to light from this additional window being very weak, too weak to have any 3 visual impact on the scene.




Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

The idyllic lighting setup in the home-stay presented occasional opportunities to make dramatically lit images of moments from everyday life.

Having significantly under-exposed most of the elements in the scene, I needed to make them look brighter so that the details could be seen again.

One day, during breakfast, I saw the woman playing with her granddaughter, who was still in bed. The light on them was not ideal, but I anticipated that this would change. My previous couple of days at the home-stay had taught me that the woman habitually looked through the window, checking on friends and family outdoors. I knew that if this happened at the right time, I would have a lighting scenario with the sculpting effect that I desired.

To bring back the details in all of the under-exposed dark areas I significantly increased the value of the Fill light/Shadows slider in Lightroom.

The above step caused the left side of the curtain to look too bright. To remedy this, I darkened the area with the Exposure Adjustment Brush in Lightroom.

The increase in “Fill light/Shadows” also made the black colors look a little faded. I made them look deeper by raising the Blacks slider in Lightroom.

To slightly emphasize the light’s sculpting effect I painted on the woman’s face, increasing Clarity with the Adjustment Brush.

I ate breakfast with my camera on standby, picking it up when I heard the woman’s son exit the house. Moments later, she got up to look through that window, the grandchild followed her and the two were illuminated by ideal sculpting light. The image I had hoped for materialized. I took a gamble in exposing for the brightest element—the window (to preserve detail) was a gamble. I risked severely under-exposing the darker area (woman’s elbow to the right side of the frame). I took a chance, because the faces and elements closer to the window were more important. They would be under-exposed much less, meaning lesser risk of losing detail there.


Case Study 7: Dramatic interplay of shadows in a landscape 24-70@52mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 100

Case studies

Background info 1

Our dependence on natural light is strongest when we photograph outdoors and our subjects are large and immovable, such as natural landscapes or buildings. In these cases we’re virtually powerless to change the lighting conditions we’ve been dealt. Our success depends on how effectively we adapt to whatever situation is at hand or, more specifically, on our ability to be in the right place at the right time—if or when the light becomes ideal for our purposes. For this particular scene, I’d decided that the ideal light for my intended shot was during the sunrise hour. To ensure a strong image, I had to find the best vantage point for what I wanted to communicate visually and needed to be at that vantage point when the time was right and the light was ideal.


Light-related objectives The sight of the monasteries atop and amidst the jagged-edged mountains was awe-inspiring. It was ruggedly beautiful, serene, and dramatic all at once. I wanted the light to reflect or, better yet, to accentuate those qualities in my photograph.

Deconstructing the lighting scenario 1. Morning sun is still not very high above the horizon. The sun in this position creates the kind of light which is responsible for giving everything in the scene a warm, yellow tint. It’s also responsible for sculpting the landscape, creating shadows in the crevices as well as those cast by the surrounding mountains (2).

Light’s role in visual communication •

The sun in the latter stages of magic hour creates a color palette comprising shades of light gold and deep blue (in the sky). Such a color palette is ideal for communicating the scene’s beauty and serenity, adding a distinct sense of warmth.

The sun’s position and direction of light play a part in casting shadows over parts of the scene. The shadows cut through the landscape in such a way that it appears as if there’s a spotlight on the mountain top occupied by the main monastery complex. The spotlight accentuates one of the more spectacular features of the landscape, and the interplay of warm bright tones and the dark shadow evokes a distinct sense of drama.

The direction of light contributes to the sculpting of the textures and features in the mountain surfaces. The scene gains a sense of depth and volume.

2. Shadows cast by the surrounding mountains. These are partly responsible for the sense of drama that I was trying to achieve.

From page 55 86

Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

To achieve my objective of conveying the rugged beauty, serenity, and drama of the scene I needed to decide at which point during the day the lighting scenario would be most suitable for my purpose.

The image that came directly out of the camera looked a little dull. This was partly because I set all the in-camera presets towards neutral, in staying a little on the safe side. I didn’t expose for the brightest element in the scene, as this would have made all the blacks very deep and the shadows darker.

My decision was assisted by an exercise in time-lapse photography (see page 21). A sequence of photos during the sunrise hour revealed some important intricacies specific to this situation. My attention was drawn to the interplay of shadow and light, caused by the sun’s position and the mountains surrounding the scene. The morning sun’s golden-tinting qualities would take care of communicating the beauty and serenity, but it was the interplay of light and dark that would help me heighten the sense of drama. The next step was finding the best vantage point. I felt that the one I shot from during the time-lapse could be improved on. I went for a hike during the day, outside of the shooting hours and found the viewpoint this photo was taken from. I prefer it as it shows more of the mountains in the background.

As sometimes happens, I realized that I could have exposed for the brightest part of the image after all, so I brought the overall level of Exposure down a little in Lightroom.

To add a bit of drama and life to the photograph I increased the contrasts with the Tone Curve and raised the value of the Blacks. I also increased the overall Saturation of the image and made a very small increase in Saturation in the Yellows.

A subtle expansion of tonal range was made when I used the Exposure Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to darken the bright, white monastery buildings on the top of the mountain.

I was ready. I reached the viewpoint well before the ideal moment and waited for it. I exposed for the brighter mountain top with the monastery, since having dark shadows in the image was actually part of my plan. 87

Case Study 8: Atmospheric natural light as the driving force behind the photo 24-70@52mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 100

Case studies

Background info


A drive through the Romanian countryside on a gloomy, rainy day led me past scenes of people herding sheep and working their land. The scenes could have made for potentially interesting photographs, but I didn’t feel that I had the visual ingredients for anything particularly dramatic or atmospheric.


2 a stretch of thick fog. As I My mind-set quickly changed when I entered mentioned on page 52, lighting scenarios in the fog can make virtually any subject matter photo-worthy, and so, in this case, it was the light that became the driving force behind my decision to make a photograph.

Light-related objectives The lighting scenario was what inspired me to make the photograph and so, I already knew what to expect in that regard. The light would play a big part in creating an atmosphere that was somber and melancholic. For a strong image, my objective was to find a subject matter that would be appropriate for the kind of mood the light evoked.

Deconstructing the lighting scenario

The scene of the man and his horses ploughing land instantly spoke to me of the tough lives of the rural folk in Romania. The associations that I had with that kind of scene matched the mood that the light on a foggy day created.

1. Clouds are diffusing the sun’s rays and taking away its strength. 2. Fog is further diffusing the sun’s rays, taking away even more of its strength. It’s also responsible for a slightly gray tint on all the colors in the scene and for the fading of elements further away from the camera.

Light’s role in visual communication •

The light’s grayish tint paired with a strong presence of gray and dark brown tones in the scene sets a mood that is very gloomy and melancholic.

As the level of light fades in the distance in relation to the camera, various elements fade with it, hence creating a sense of space and depth and isolating the figures from the background.

The even spread of the light helps to reveal all the elements in the scene which are closer to the camera. Nothing gets lost in the shadows, that could have been present in a different kind of light. We see dead grass, the rough soil, the man’s clothes, even the horses’ eyes. The story is communicated very clearly in the narrative sense as a result.


From page 55

Both the clouds and the fog are causing the even spread of light throughout the scene.


Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

The skill required in situations like this one is the ability to recognize that you have an ingredient for a potentially strong photograph—in this case, the atmospheric light produced by thick fog and overcast skies. The next skill required is the ability to marry this lighting scenario with suitable subject matter.

When there are no harsh contrasts in a scene and the image is properly exposed, with most of the detail well preserved, there’s no need for significant expanding of the dynamic range, nor is there a need for much. The best approach to such photographs is sometimes more about refraining from too much post-processing rather than thinking of what to adjust.

Having already driven past the sheep herders and farmers in the fields, I knew that the perfect subject matter to photograph in this kind of light could be literally just around the corner—I simply had to find it. I slowed down my car and scanned the fields that lined both sides of the road, hoping to see more of what I’d taken note of before. Things worked out in my favour and I noticed the farmer with his horses, plowing the grayish-brown soil.

To bring out more detail in the image overall I decreased the Exposure very slightly and increased the value of Fill light/Shadows in Lightroom. I felt I could bring out just a little more detail in the black horse, so I painted inside it, increasing the exposure with the Adjustment Brush.

The image needed a couple of very slight tweaks to make some elements look just a little more dynamic and dramatic. I slightly increased the overall Clarity and the value of Blacks. I painted in the area of the plowed soil with the Adjustment Brush, further increasing Clarity and Contrasts. It can be very tempting to get carried away during this step, and by doing so, I could have killed the mood that the light had created.

From a distance, the fog rendered their figures featureless. I wanted to see some detail, so, I zoomed out to my lens’ widest setting and got closer. With the even spread of the diffused light, there were no real exposure-related challenges. I metered and exposed for the farmer. As you can see from the image straight out of the camera, I was able to capture a wide enough range of tones to not have to do much in the post-processing stages.


Case Study 9: Creating a sense of drama with a reflector and an iPhone iPhone f/2.4, 1/60s, ISO 64

Case studies

Background info

With this last case study I wanted to reiterate 1 a few important points. The first point is something I mentioned at the beginning of the ebook. Creative use of light really isn’t limited to fancy cameras, not even to digital SLRs. This image, like some of the others in the ebook was shot with an iPhone 4S.


2a reflector is a very simple, yet powerful creative tool, The next point is that which can give us a degree of control over natural light. The last and most important point is that it’s easy to apply the knowledge that you have gained from this ebook. I took this photograph of my friend inside his house during a shoot which lasted around ten minutes. I used a reflector, but as you’ve seen from the exercises in the previous pages, most often you don’t even need that.



Light-related objectives I wanted to include an extreme sense of drama in this portrait. As the shoot started, I joked with my friend that he looked like a bit of a villain. Through the use of light I wanted to show him as a noble, intelligent person, but also, as someone who might have a dark side.

Deconstructing the lighting scenario 1. Reflector reflecting rays of the midday sun with the silver/ gold side. It is placed about fifteen feet away from the subject so that the light it produces is prevented from becoming overwhelmingly bright.

Light’s role in visual communication •

The light’s sideways direction creates a progression of light-dark tones, but it is not a smooth progression, as it would have been if I’d used diffused light from the window. Instead, the progression is hard and pronounced. It creates the extreme sense of drama that I was looking for. The fading of the face into darkness was a way of hinting at that dark side I’d joked about my friend having.

2. Light from the reflector is responsible for giving the scene a warm tint and for creating the hard, dramatic progression of light-dark tones.

From page 13

3. Diffused, natural light coming through the window. This light is overpowered by light from the reflector. It doesn’t have much impact on the scene, beyond giving it overall brightness.

The light is reflected off the silver/gold side of the reflector, which is akin to the rays of the sun when it has begun its descent. The light gives the scene a warm tint and renders the colors vivid and dynamic, hence adding to the sense of drama.

Note: At the top of the man’s head (frame-left) you will notice a bright area, separating him a little from the dark background. The white ceiling above the subject is responsible for this: It reflects the light from the window down at his head. 92

Method and explanations

Light-related post-processing steps

The photograph was taken near an open window. The sculpting effect of diffused natural light would have been perfect for many situations, but I wanted extreme drama, so I decided on the harsher light from the reflector.

I exposed the image in such a way to allow a fairly wide dynamic range to work with in post-processing. This was just as well, since Jpegs (the only format the iPhone shoots in) allow much less room for error in this regard. The main goal with this image was to accentuate the drama I had created with the reflector light. I imported the image into Lightroom and did all my adjustments there.

I also wanted the colors in the scene to look dynamic and vivid, but without too much of a golden-orange tint. For this reason I used the silver/gold side of the reflector, rather than the gold one. To avoid having extremely strong light, the reflector itself could not be placed too close to the subject. I asked my wife, who was assisting by operating the reflector, to point it at the scene from a few feet away, hence making the light noticeably weaker. Exposing the shot with the iPhone was a little tricky. I exposed for a nearby bright, white window frame and locked the exposure (using the Camera Pro app). I needed to do this because the automatic exposure with the default camera app severely over-exposed the scene.


The sense of drama needed heightening with an increase in contrasts and deepening of the darker tones in the image. I did this with the Tone Curve, moving the slider in the Darks almost all the way to the left.


The above step caused parts of the image to look a little too dark. To deal with this problem, I slightly increased the value of the Fill light/Shadows slider. The right eye was still looking a little dark, so I brightened it with the Exposure Adjustment Brush.

I could have exposed the image to look darker, but I wanted to have the highest possible degree of tones to work with in post-processing. 93


Ten tips on natural light

I mentioned right at the beginning that one of the reasons behind colour’s importance in photography is that it impacts what our photographs say. This is a fact, not being aware of

If you have gone through the chapters of thisitebook carefully, these tips are not anything or ignoring it means that you’re ultimately justnew. losing control over what your photographs They are, however, a good overview of what communicate. we have covered. Let me also throw a rather bold statement out there. Colour is not necessarily good for story-

It light has in fact, for quite some time been seen as an obstacle to story-telling. A “wrong” 1. We photograph to communicate visually.telling. Natural 6.  Natural light’s characteristics change in accordance with

colour in the frame can drive yourthe story in a different direction few of “wrong” is a big part of that communication. To communicate weather, the time of dayand anda due to these various other colours or in other words colours irrelevant to what you’re trying to communicate or colours effectively, be intentional in your use of natural light. factors. Learn as much as you can about the way the that distract the viewer from an action, gesture a detail holds importance can makebe your changes affectorwhat thethat light illuminates, and you’ll 2. Don’t limit yourself creatively and don’t look lightimpossible in storyat pretty to understand. In make short, a lotmost moreof things go wrong when colour able to the any can lighting scenario. terms of “good” and “bad”. Different types of light are is involved and that’s why a lot of visual story-tellers make black-and-white their medium of like different tools for the photographer to communicate 7. Learn how to work with natural light­—how to diffuse it, choice. with. There’s always the right tool for the right occasion. direct it and reflect it. You will be equipped with more While it is undeniable that colourcreative can present a challenge to effective visual story-telling, tools and will be able to communicate morea 3. Learn to adapt to different types of natural light and eloquently your as a result. our deeper understanding and sensibility towardsthrough colour can notphotographs only help us communicate occasionally let the light be the driving force behind your stories effectively, it can make the images speak louder, clearer, with more complexity and quite images. This will help you open new creative horizons for 8. Spend time shooting the light for the sake of learning often directly to the senses of the viewer. More on that later. For now, let’s have a closer look at yourself. how it translates through the camera. This will deepen just how we actually “speak” with colour from within the frame. your understanding of the topic and make you a better 4. Accept that you cannot create the perfectAsexposure in high photographer I hinted in the visual weight section, we beginoverall. to communicate with colour as soon as we contrast lighting conditions—in-camera. In order to at least start using it to draw the viewer’s attention towards an element or an area within the frame. get close to that perfect exposure, meter and expose with 9. Be obsessed with natural light. Analyze it wherever you The most visually heavy elements are the ones which speak loudest and before any others, with consideration for post-processing. are and whenever you are looking at other photographers’ that in mind, let’s have a closer look at the image on the next page and through it let’s analyse a images. This way, you’ll always be learning about natural little closer how we can speak with colour. 5. Working with the image in post-processing software light and will always be improving as a photographer. is a big part of the photographic process. Learn postprocessing and your work will reach new heights. 10. Shoot as much as you can. Ultimately, all the other stuff doesn’t matter, if you lack the practical experience.

Closing words


I mentioned right at the beginning that one of the reasons behind colour’s importance in Natural light is the most potent and powerful tool that we Before we part ways, I’d like to point you in the direction of some photography is that it impacts what our photographs say. This is a fact, not being aware of photographers have. One of the main aims of this ebook was to photographers who I consider masters of natural light. Some of them it or ignoring it means that you’re ultimately just losing control over what your photographs educate you, the reader, about just how powerful and useful it can be. are very well known, while others less so. The one quality they all have communicate. Another important aim was to show you how natural light “works” in common is their incredible understanding of natural light and their and to demonstrate how you can work with it, fromLet theme time ofthrow the a ratherability to use it toout achieve amazing results. also bold statement there.some Colour is not necessarily good for storyshoot to the post-processing stages. telling. It has in fact, for quite some time been seen as an obstacle to story-telling. A “wrong” inwords the frame The one key point which I’d like to reiterate in thesecolour closing is can drive your story in a different direction and a few of these “wrong” orthat in other that there is no such thing as good or bad light. It iscolours my hope at words colours irrelevant to what you’re trying to communicate or colours this point, you can see different types of natural light as distract differentthe tools, that viewer from an action, gesture or a detail that holds importance can make your each appropriate in some way for various situations,story depending on pretty impossible to understand. In short, a lot more things can go wrong when colour what you aim to communicate with each photograph. is involved and that’s why a lot of visual story-tellers make black-and-white their medium of choice. as the use Finally, gaining a true understanding of a topic as practical Ami Vitale of natural light in photography is impossible through just reading While it is undeniable that colour can present a challenge to effective visual story-telling, a David Alan Harvey about the subject. If you’re serious about mastering deeper naturalunderstanding light and and sensibility towards colour can not only help us communicate our getting the most out of the images you’ve made with the aid of poststories effectively, it can make the images louder, clearer, with more complexity and quite Stevespeak Mccurry processing software, you need to become obsessed with natural light. often directly to the senses of the viewer. More on that later. For now, let’s have a closer look at Observe it in all aspects of your everyday life and in the photography Christopher Anderson just how we actually “speak” with colour from within the frame. of others. But, beyond anything else: take photos, experiment with Lynsey Addario them in post-processing software, and see how everything works As I hinted in the visual weight section, we begin to communicate with colour as soon as we first hand. Olivier towards Föllmi start using it to draw the viewer’s attention an element or an area within the frame. The most visually heavy elements are the ones which speak loudest and before any others, with Matthieu Paley that in mind, let’s have a closer look at the image on the next page and through it let’s analyse a Timothy Allen little closer how we can speak with colour. Ken Duncan Annie Griffiths

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this is a wonderful site to test


this is a wonderful site to test