Monday, 17 November 2014

Understanding Light

It's not rocket science but the nature of the light falling on a subject can obviously make, or break,  any photo.  I often get asked "How can I make my photos zing", or "why are my pictures dull compared to some I have seen on the Internet"...
The simple answer is that it's usually all about the light.  Not lenses, not exposure settings and definitely not Photoshop.
We can identify the subject but we often miss what's going on with the light - what it looks like, its intensity, angle, brightness and of course, it's colour.  If you shoot early or later in the day, the light will be considerably nicer than if you shoot at midday.  Early and late afternoon light also provides longer shadows and therefore greater depth to any shot. 
Here are two classic examples.  Sake barrels stacked at the entrance to Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo.  The first one was shot on the way into the shrine because it's almost an obligatory snap - everyone does it because they are colourful and visually interesting. However it's almost a a reflex action - the result is OK but not that exciting.  Because of the light.
On the way out of the shrine complex the light had changed - the  sun was slanting through the tree cover, illuminating the barrels unevenly - and it is this small change in the light that makes the image 100% better - not the exposure, f-stop, ISO, lens choice or Photoshop  (which in this example, did not change).
Lesson learned: take the time to look at the nature of the light. As a street or landscape photographer there's not a lot you can do to change that light, other than to wait for it to change. Sometimes it does, at other times, it doesn't.
That's the fun, and frustration of photography.

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