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Light is the very essence of photography. It's even in the source of the word "photography," which literally means light painting. The art form has evolved from the complicated chemistry of light-reactive silver halides and wet plate collodion processes to the even more complicated technology of digital image sensors and megapixels, but the basic idea of using a medium to capture a picture in light remains the same. Learning how to use light to your advantage can be the difference between a mediocre picture and a beautiful piece of art.
We've talked before about using light wisely, but today we're going to go even more in-depth on the subject.
Timing is everything
If at all possible, arrange your photo shoot to take advantage of the best lighting conditions. When shooting outside, the warmth and color of the light, as well as its angles and the shadows it creates, are all drastically affected by the time of day and angle of the sun. Here's a quick run-down of the light at different times of day:
Light is everywhere!
When composing a photograph, it's important to be aware of all of the light that goes into it—not just the most obvious light sources (the sun, your camera's flash, an overhead fixture, the light from a window), but also the light that's reflected off things or coming from secondary sources. This is especially important when you're photographing something with a reflective surface, such as a window, mirror, or even your subject's glasses.
If you're getting some distracting glare, try moving your subject slightly to one side or the other, or move yourself in relation to the subject. You'll frequently find that a very small adjustment will eliminate the problem.
Nature? but better
Everyone looks better in natural light than in the harsh glare of the typical camera's built-in flash. But sometimes, nature just doesn't provide enough light or light from the right direction. In those cases, there are some tricks you can use to pump things up a bit.
Tricks of the light
There are lots of fun tricks you can do with light to enhance your photography. Most of them involve breaking the rules we've been telling you about all along!
It's easy to create stunning silhouettes. For example, position your subject with the light coming from behind, then set your camera's light reading on the background instead of on your subject. This will result in your subject being underexposed—i.e., in silhouette—against the background.
You can also try setting a long shutter speed in a dark scene, and moving a light like a flashlight, sparkler, or laser pointer around in front of your camera. You'll be able to see the trails of light in your photo. (There's actually an entire school of photographic art based around this, called light painting.)
Whether you want to take photos inside or out, every portrait photographer needs the same kind of gear.
Is that a super telephoto lens in your hand, or are you just pleased to be taking sports photos?
With a modern DSLR in your hand, the world's beautiful vistas are your oyster.
Make light work with you instead of against you for beautiful photographs.
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