For experienced and beginner shutterbugs alike, understanding and using light properly — whether it’s natural or flash — is an important factor in photography. It can be the difference between taking a good or bad photo, as you’ll learn in this instalment of the printpix Photography Series.
Most digital cameras have automatic settings for different types of lighting conditions. If lighting is perfect, then even a compact camera’s auto modes can deliver good photos. However, lighting conditions are rarely ideal, so here a few tips that will make a significant difference to the final image.
- Light at midday is high in the sky can be quite harsh, leaving heavy shadows, blotchy skin tones and causing your subject to squint. Try a Polaroid filter for direct overhead light; this will create a beautiful blue sky.
- Late afternoon or early morning light is softer, has a warmer, golden quality and is easier for your subject to keep their eyes open. In photography, this period is often referred to as “golden hour”.
- Keep the sun behind your subject — for example, your baby playing in a sandpit — and either expose the shot for the amount of light on the front of your child or use “fill-in” flash (your camera’s built-in flash) for a great, “backlit” shot.
- “Red eye” is caused when the flash hits the rear of the eye and reflects back into the camera lens, so when indoors turn on all the room lights for additional brightness. Using an off-camera flash will increase the actual distance from the flash to the lens, meaning the ‘reflected’ eye will miss the lens and you will avoid the “red-eye” effect every time.
- Use a flash in sunlight; this will “fill in” shadows and create a more balanced outdoor photograph.
Playing With Light And Its Reflection
The easiest way to change the lighting in a photo is to use the flash on your camera, but the end result can look flat and boring. A simple technique used by professional photographers is reflected light, which basically requires a reflective sheet, white foam or a car’s sun shade that bounces light back onto your subject, getting rid of harsh shadows.
Exposure Is Key
Most digital cameras have a built-in exposure meter that tells them what the best settings are. Using this function is simple: hold down the shutter button about halfway, and the centre of the view finder — the point where most cameras read from — needs to be held over the subject while you compose the image. If the exposure meter is pointing at the sky and you are trying to shoot a subject on the ground, chances are the sky will be OK but your subject will come out very dark. Sometimes, especially indoors at night, the automatic camera settings will select a slow shutter speed, leaving you with blurry photos. This is where you need to take control of the manual settings.
Taking Photos At Night
A lot of entry-level compact digital cameras have a night photo setting, which slows down the shutter speed to capture the ambient lighting and also fires the flash to freeze the main subject. For instance, if you’re taking a shot of someone in front of the city skyline at twilight, night mode captures the lights of the city and the flash will light up your subject a few metres away, giving a balance between fore- and background. You can also do this in manual mode with any camera by exposing for the background light and then firing a flash to light up your subject in the foreground. It’s important to have the camera mounted on some kind of stable surface or tripod; use either the self timer mode or cable release to take the image. The smallest movement at these slow shutter speeds will cause blurring, which is why you should use a cable release or self timer.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the printpix Photography Series: