Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Right Light

The right light is critical to good photographs. Both brillant sun with its black shadows and really flat light result in dull boring pictures, especially in black and white. HDR has helped the sunlit images but really flat lighting just plain sucks.

Predicting what light you will have for your photographs can be really difficult. Some photographers will only go out at sunrise but of course sunset lasts just as long and can be every bit as nice. I have found it practical in summer to head out in the afternoon, photograph at sunset, either camp or motel and then go out very early to photograph before and during sunrise, heading home again.

Weather conditions often change though and by not heading out you may be missing on the wonderful light that followed the crap light. A thunderstorm develops and the light is magic. Perhaps you end up photographing something in the shade, with somewhat directional lighting provided by other objects reflecting into the subject area. When photographing the small, local conditions trump overall lighting and even holding up an umbrella, shirt or you can be enough to change the lighting from poor to great.


Larry said...

Hi George,

Re: "really flat lighting just plain sucks". At the risk of being accused of self-promotion, I direct you to for an example of a photo I took in really flat lighting that is one of my personal favorites and has been very well received by others. I took the photo in the middle of the day in weather that was gray and totally overcast, nearly foggy. I can't imagine any flatter light than that. I'm sure I could also come up with examples on the other end of the scale where extreme contrast produced a great image (even without the benefit of HDR).I guess my point is that, while the percentage of good shots may be much lower under certain conditions, all types of lighting can yield compelling images.

George Barr said...

Larry is right, it was the flat light that 'made' his photograph, making for a simple and clean design, devoid of distractions. I do think though that this is the exception, but clearly, there is no light that can't be used to make an effective photograph, if you are observant.

Conclusion - there is no right light - take the light you have and see what you can make of it.


Anonymous said...


Tim said...

There is a certain attitude that appears to revere people who go out to make photographs on large-format 5x4" using velvia-50 in portrait orientation with shed-loads of rear-tilt perspective and a grad-ND down the sky then sit back and wait an hour "for the light", as though it were the pinnacle of Landscape.

There's more than enough advice not to bother between 10am-2pm or wider depending on season.

Heck, there used to be advice like "shoot with the sun 45ยบ over your shoulder", too.

I think I've hit saturation-point with all that. Take photos. *Be* creative, don't read articles on how to "be creative". Enjoy the results. That is all. :)

Tien Frogget said...

I think that beautiful pictures can be taken in any light, if you know how to make the best of it. Yes, those magical hours of sunrise and sunset are fantastic for photo taking. And yet, some of my favorite shots have been taken at high noon, simply because it was the only time I had to go out and take pictures - and I'll take pictures in "bad light" any day of the week if it's the only chance I get. :) I think you have some good points, and I've certainly taken plenty of terrible photos in "bad light" so there is definitely truth there. But sometimes the challenge of using what is there, you have the opportunity to learn more about how to manipulate and capture what you see in a way that can still be absolutely beautiful.