“Light is so important that it is necessary to become an expert in every aspect of light, from its bold qualities to its subtle nuances.”
– Barnbaum, 2010, The Art of Photography, p68
“Photographers choose a light source for the quality and character it brings to their work.”
– Ingledew, 2005, Photography, p214
“Light – the photographer’s constant inspiration – can do strange things.”
– Hill, 1982, Approaching Photography, p143
“Most photographers equate good light with an abundance of light.
– Barnbaum, 2010, The Art of Photography, p69
Yet another stimulating and challenging exercise!
The brief points out that we should “observe” the light and not just photograph it. One could argue that we always do observe the light- albeit apparently unconsciously – or we wouldn’t even be able to SEE the intended photograph to begin with, would we?
However, as I am sure this task expects, it really is an eye-opening thing to actually observe the sometimes subtle, sometimes brusk changes in the light that falls on and around us throughout the day; as Hill mentions (Hill, 1982): “…the discipline of stilling yourself for a length of time to look closely at an object almost certainly has a beneficial effect.”, (even if he was talking about drawing!), so I started observing.
I am lucky to live in one of the sunniest places in Italy (we very rarely never see blue sky), so, let’s say there is plenty to work with here. I decided to take a landscape shot from the top of my masionette (well, it’s not my masionette, I have a flat there!). I’d been meaning to get up there to do a few shots for years so it was good to actually get around to it. The view is of a block of flats (which I have been photographing for years) and I thought it would be perfect for this exercise due to its shape, foreground textures as well as background view and sky hopefully giving me a full range of tones to work with (and observe) throughout the day.
After making some notes (see Reading and research below) from what I’d been reading and doing a little simple research on-line regarding local sunrise and sunset times, I prepped my gear (including a new tripod, and shutter release cable – new toys!) for an early morning start.
Photo sequence and notes
I’ve always loved that mother-of-pearl hue that is just amazing when it hits the sea, and I can see the same colour here in the sky: a very warm (maybe 2000-3000 K? Still haven’t quite got my head around these numbers yet). We can also see the orange tints thanks to the street lights (including a huge one just out of sight to the left) and they are even leaving a shadow on the flats (closest balconies on the left of the building). I’m quite impressed with the ‘tiny’ m4/3 sensor which holds on to detail quite well when I pulled detail out of the shadows in post production using the shadows and highlights levels (not this shot, these shots are all straight out of the camera JPEGs).
I thought I would add this shot just to demonstrate the (almost amazing) difference that 10 mins can make! It’s almost as if I had underexposed shot 1 and then this one has been ‘corrected’. The light is not so different in terms of quality, but rather intensity – there’s just more of it (as far as I can see). We can see this with the detail in the flats starting to become clearer; there is also a nice warm uniformity to the light, it seems to be evenly distributed over the image (even if the histogram shows clipping in the highlights? Again, not in this actual photo, but later in Lightroom, I lowered the highlights and the histogram settled towards the middle indicating correct exposure, just to play around a bit).
An hour and a half later and the light is very different. The sky has taken on a light blue (cyan even?) feel and the direct sunlight casts its (awesome) shadows, and brings out the Pine trees to the right (they seem to pop out compared to the previous two images!). There is still a feeling of a warmer light on the buildings in sunlight whereas the shadows seem to be taking on a bluer tone. The background hills also become lighter and are starting to fade as the direct sunlight fills the air between us and them (and they have almost lost their early morning blueness).
Finally (I think) I can see what Ingledew was talking about with regards to the quality of light and the bluer Kelvin (above 5000K – if I’m not mistaken). There is no mistaking that almost everything (except those central beige flats?) are blanketed with a blue layer – it’s almost as if I had put a light blue filter on the camera!
I used Auto WB for these shots. I have the habit of using one of the programmable wheels on my camera to toggle between WB settings. I find by keeping both eyes open while looking through the EVF (which I religiously use) I can see when they match or when the camera looks like it is ‘seeing’ what I am seeing in terms of colour temperature. Does that make sense?
I’d read something about the different directions of light in Barnbaum (2010, p75) and with this shot I can see the so-called axis-lighting and how it hits the cloud creating a stronger contrast than with shot 4. Or am I just imagining this? There is definitely a colder feel to this with the clouds than with shot 4. Diprose and Robins (2012, p131) talk about this: “You will also notice that daylight is not a fixed colour either; as the sun rises higher in the sky it turns bluer, and this also happens when the weather becomes more overcast. This helps to explain why sunset pictures can look more orange than they appear in real life: although you may be using a daylight WB setting (5500K), the sunset is much warmer, at 3200K, which is the same colour as a tungsten light.”
This final shot in the sequence is (surprisingly for me), or seems tobe quite blue still. I just assumed that the dawn dusk light were the same in temperature, but that is not the case as we can see here. The histogram for this shot (the only one in this sequence) also showed clipping towards the blue tint. I can see some faint, soft yellows/oranges here too, but very different from the early morning shots. Should I gone with the clichéd orangey/red sunset? Should probably have taken a couple more with direct sunlight still visible.
Reading and research
As always with these exercises, a good deal of reading is required (in my opinion) if you really want to get closer to appreciating these tasks (as well as building up a certain amount of confidence and background knowledge with regards to basic photographic principles).
Once again Ingledew’s great book: Photography, and Diprose and Robins’ solid: Photography: The New Basics, have shed some light (sorry!) on the tricky beauty of light.
Both books point out the way in which sunlight changes [temperature] throughout the day, starting with Diprose and Robins on page 271: “Daylight is continuously changing in colour temperature and quality, so care must be taken in its use.”, and with slightly more detail with Ingledew on page 214: “Pictures taken in available light can appear more natural in mood and more atmospheric than those illuminated by flash or tungsten. The angle and colour of sunlight changes a lot throughout each day as the sun travels through the sky, giving you many choices of how to photograph a location.”
Just to add to that last quote, I would say that the fact that it changes so much during the day could also restrict the amount of choices you have – especially if you “miss” that particular moment/light/shadow/mood that you were looking for. Am I being negative here? Or just careful, or thoughtful?
Ingledew’s clear presentation of what “colour temperatures” are using the measurement Kelvin is also very insightful – as can be seen below (picture 1 – and then my notes: picture 3). Now I know what all that number madness is on my camera’s WB settings!
Freeman (2007, pp134-5) highlights the importance of taking a good look around to see the best view for a shot and how: “Making a reconnaissance for a landscape shot to check possible viewpoints and the way the light falls, then returning when weather and lighting conditions seem favourable…”
I couldn’t agree more, even if I just love those spontaneous, fortuitous moments that can occur, a certain amount of planning for this type of photography is simply essential.
I found some really very nice points on light in The Art of Photography (Barnbaum, 2010, pp67-79) and would highly recommend it, and not just for this exercise. There are so many good observations, as well as tips, too many to quote here, but I really liked this one:
“You’re first drawn to any scene because of the objects, but once you grab the camera, you must stop thinking in terms of objects. and concentrate on light.”
Er, and this one:
“You must also understand the type of light (also known as the “quality of light”) available to you, and see if it is the type of light you want for the mood you’re attempting to convey.”
And, finally, this little beauty:
“Always consider the creative possibilities that the “wrong” lighting may produce.”
Pertinently, here are a few shots that didn’t work (at least on this occasion and with this exercise) due to me fiddling about and trying out different WB settings:
I also found some interesting bits about light/lighting in an old book I have had on my shelves for years (and haven’t looked at for more than 20-odd years or so!) called Creative Techniques in Landscape Photography (Woods and Williams, 1980, pp99-107).
They, as Barnbaum above, also stress the importance of not just focusing on the subject (object) of the shot but more the light itself and its relationship with all the different elements within the frame:
“Every landscape photographer whether good bad or indifferent, exists by virtue of the scale of gradations of light that can be registered by the medium. We are often more attentive to the representation of an image than we are to the influence of light.”
Thanks to this exercise, I have come to appreciate the way light spreads across an image a little more, and to try to take it in better when framing instead of just snapping away on a gut reaction. I’m not saying that having a gut reaction is wrong, FAR from it, it’s just another aspect of capturing an image that we need to be more conscious of, as well as adding another string to my bow, whatever that actually means…
Hill, P. (1982). Approaching photography. London: Focal Press.
Ingledew, J. (2013) Photography. 2nd ed. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Freeman, M, The Photographer’s Eye – Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos, Focal Press, 2007.
Barnbaum, B. (2010). The art of photography. Santa Barbara, CA: Rocky Nook. (pp67-75)
Diprose, G. and Robins, J. (2012). Photography : the new basics. London: Thames & Hudson.
Woods, G. and Williams, J. (1980). Creative techniques in landscape photography. New York: Harper & Row.
Flickr. (2016). Flickr. [online] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinbyrne1971/4522306125/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2016].
Contact sheets and Time stamp images
The following contact sheet was not included in the sequence, although I did really appreciate the way the light took on different qualities when reflected off of the wall (as well as the colour of the shadow too). Interesting stuff indeed…
(Poor quality – couldn’t get my Lightroom to add just the time to the image so used a screenshot):
Pages from my notebook