Seeing the Light - Part One
~ Part 1: The Quality of Light ~
Aug 18, 2013
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
Photography is personal. It's about our viewpoint and vision - which are unique.
A scene captures our attention. We frame it, set the exposure, focus, and shoot. The cool thing with digital cameras is that we can immediately see the image we've shot, and thus we can tweak the camera's settings a bit, and, shoot again if the exposure is not correct.
Other times, although the scene is appealing, perhaps the light is not, and we must return at another time of the day to get the most interesting shot. The “right” light is the key to a successful image.
You may have heard photographers talk about “the magic hour” - which is essentially the hour or so on each side of sunrise and sunset when the light is golden, and when textures, shadows and colors are warm and vivid.
We forgo precious sleep in the quest to capture early morning light, which is a bit cooler than the much stronger golden-orange that falls on a landscape an hour before sunset, although both are sought after by shooters.
Weather also affects the quality and color of light, especially inclement weather when the clouds are ominous, and perhaps when a beam of light escapes through a gap in the clouds creating drama in a landscape.
An overcast day can be perfect for shooting portraits, as it provides a soft, delicate light that is flattering to a subject. Quite the opposite effect happens on a sunny day when the sun is overhead, which can create harsh and often undesirable shadows on a subject's face.
A useful exercise is to choose a scene near your home, and make a point to shoot that exact same scene at different times of the day throughout the year. This will help you to gain knowledge that few photographers have regarding light. When we learn how to see, and use light to our best advantage, we create more outstanding “wow!” images, and we become masters of light.
Maureen Spagnolo is a photographer, living in Washington, DC. She writes on a variety of social issues in addition to her photography articles.
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