What is "good light"

October 18, 2012  •  2 Comments

Photography is all about capturing beautiful light. Most people know this, but there is often a big difference between seeing a beautiful scene and being able to successfully capturing it with a photograph. The problem is that our eyes can see a vast range of light from light to dark. However, our camera is not able to do this to as great an extent. Below, I will cover how to photograph in different lighting situations as well as what light works best for certain scenes. As always there are exceptions to the rules. Also, please note that most of my images are taken in the hour just before and just after sunrise/sunset. This is the magical period in photography where a camera is best suited to capture the range of light.

Common shooting situations:

1) Sunrise/sunset: Shooting in this situation can be very problematic. When you expose the image for the sky the foreground turns out almost completely black and when you expose for the foreground that brilliant sky turns out white. There are 2 options to fix this. The first is to take 2 separate images using a tripod. One image will properly expose for the sky and the second will expose for the foreground. In post processing it is possible to blend these images. This is something that I do frequently as seen in the below image.

Point of the Arches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A second option is to use something called graduated neutral density filters. I do not use them, but lee filters are supposed to be the best. If you are interested there is plenty of information at: http://www.leefilters.com/index.php/camera/ndgrads

2) dawn/dusk: shooting before the sun comes up or after it sets can be really fun. For these images it is usually possible to capture all of the dynamic range of an image in a single exposure. The below image was taken about 30 minutes after sunset. In post processing I was able to bring out all of the color and detail using a single RAW file. As a side note: when shooting stars or the moon an exposure of greater than 30-60 seconds will cause the stars/moon to move. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Cityscapes: there is something magical about photographing a city as the sun falls and the lights of the city come on. The best time to capture a city is 30-45 minutes before the sun rises or 30-45 minutes after the sun has set. Much like the above scene it is possible to capture the scene with a single exposure. However, if you wait too long then the lights of the city become too bright and will hide all of the detail in the buildings. Both if the images below were captured during this magical period. Sometimes it is referred to as blue hour. Side note: to get stars out of the lights in a city you have to adjust the aperture. An aperture value of f/16 was used on the upper photo. An aperture of f/4 will give you no star.

Portland Dreaming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Sand Dunes: Sand dunes can be treated the same as the above two scenarios, but my favorite time for dune photography is the first 30 minutes after sunrise because the sun creates shadows, making the ripples in the sand stand out. It also creates contrast and leading lines. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5) Forest/Waterfalls: The main trick here is that there should be no DIRECT light. If there is direct light then you will have the same problem as scenario #1 above. There is too much dynamic range to capture and it is very difficult to blend 2 images together in these cases. Rainy/overcast/foggy days are great for this type of photography. There is a little bit more leeway here in that it is possible to photograph for longer periods of time after sunrise and before sunset. This image was taken almost 2 hours after sunrise, but since it was in a canyon on an overcast day there was no direct light. Side note: a polarizing filter is essential in these situations to really make the colors of the scene come to life. Without it, the detail in the water would have been lost and the nice greens would not have been as saturated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6) Black and White images: Because b+w images are all about the relationship between light and dark it is essential that the scene has a fair amount of contrast. Usually backlight or sidelight is the most effective. Front lighting will usually cause a boring, flat b+w image. In the image below there was just enough fog to give the scene a dreamy quality. I also knew that I would lose all detail in both the sky  and the trees because there was too much dynamic range in the scene. Since I didn't care about the detail of the scene but rather the relationship between light and dark this made for a perfect b+w shot. Helpful hint: Silver efex pro makes b+w conversions much easier.

Lost in Thought, Colombia River Gorge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope that this was helpful. Please feel free to e-mail me with any further questions.

 

 


Comments

2.Wolfgang Beckert(non-registered)
Ich finde all mein angelesenes Wissen und meine Erfahrungen bestätigt, um tolle Fotos zu produzieren. Die Umsetzung in der Praxis ist trotzdem nicht einfach. Sehr viele Komponenten müssen stimmen. Da zeigt sich, wer den richtigen Blick für die einmalige Situation hat. Mit deinen Fotos hast du das eindrucksvoll bewiesen.
1.Trevor(non-registered)
this was extremely helpful. thank you for sharing. you have incredible images and it is great to understand more about the various techniques you use.
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