The Right Light




Light is constantly changing. Depending on the time of day, time of year, pollution and geographic location, the light’s colour temperature and direction varies. Directing your attention towards the lighting mood is important in order to capture a good image. A large amount of preparation and planning in terms of sunrise, the course of the sun and positioning the lens is often involved in commissioned work. An example is architectural photography. Here it is essential to decide on the direction you wish to go in and to determine at what time during the day or at what of year the object

What is Light?

The word photography is derived from the Greek meaning: light drawing. Photography therefore describes a technical procedure where the characteristics of light are stored (permanently).

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Direction of Light

Light has various properties and qualities which include light direction. It determines the angle between light source, subject and camera. Mainly we differentiate between front light, side light and backlight. There are differences in relation to the light source’s radiating surface. If the photographer directly illuminates the subject by using a large source of light (e.g. overcast sky), the photographer obtains a so-called soft light.

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Side Light / Ray of light

In sidelight or when hit by a ray of light, shadows cast acquire certain significance. Depending on the subject’s nature, the shadow cast can create spatial depth. A ray of light is light that hits a surface from the side. It is ideal to mould contours and surface structures as the shadows highlight the contours.

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An old rule in photography says that the photographer should always stand with his/her back to the sun when taking a photograph. Should you never take a photograph against the sun? The answer is – “Yes, however, you should…”. On the one hand, backlit situations offer a wealth of interesting subjects and different and creative opportunity. On the other hand, problems can arise when trying to achieve the correct exposure and image interference can occur (reduction in contrast, lens flare…).

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Artificial Lighting

Illuminating a subject with an artificial light source is called artificial lighting in photography. Depending on its source, this light has different characteristics in relation to colour temperature and radiating surface. Both are relevant in photography. The light’s colour composition (colour temperature, wavelength) influences the reproduction of the subject’s colours. Stark contrasts in colour may occur, depending on the light sources which have little in common with the way colour this perceived by the human eye. It becomes more problematic when true colours need to be reproduced (e.g. artwork). In these cases, it is advantageous to use manual white balance and the corresponding colour management.

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Soft Light

The larger the light source’s radiating surface is, the softer the light is. Shadows are minimised and the illuminated area is illuminated evenly. This lighting situation occurs e.g. with overcast skies or illumination using a softbox in the studio. This type of illumination is often used in the area of portrait or beauty photography. Even distinctive faces appear more even and skin unevenness is smoothed out.

Hard Light

Hard light is created by light sources that cover a small surface (can also be puntiform light sources). Here the light source’s absolute surface coverage is not relevant but instead the distance to the illuminated object. This explains why the sun, despite its diameter of ca. 1400000 km, due to its great distance from earth (ca. 150 x 106 km), is perceived as a punctiform light source. It has the respective effect on the image result.

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Brightness / Luminance / Illuminance

To describe light intensity there are a number of terms such as brightness, luminance and illuminance… These expressions describe different aspects of light intensity. This article concentrates on introductory information relevant to photography

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Colour Temperature of Light

Light displays different characteristics in relation to colour composition, depending on the light source. The light’s colour temperature impacts the subject’s colour rendering. The expression colour temperature is derived from the glowing, red-hot iron that radiates light with their respective wavelengths.

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Weather, Time of Year (Season) and Day

Especially interesting in the area of natural sunlight are the numerous different forms of light that are essentially provided by one light source – the sun.

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Photography in the rain provides an array of creative possibilities. Rain doesn’t simply change the light’s colour temperature but also the subject’s reflexive properties.

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Golden Hour

This lighting condition occurs shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset. It is characterised by a warm soft light. The warm colours in the evening, in the morning and the red tones at sunrise and sunset are created by the atmosphere’s filter-effect. The cause is the long distance the sunlight has to cover while travelling through the atmosphere at these times of day. First, the short waved, blue light components are absorbed which results the remaining light consisting of more red components.

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Noon – Sun Directly Overhead

The sun is at its highest point, directly overhead, vertical to the earth. This creates difficult lighting conditions for the photographer. The short distance through the atmosphere that the sunlight covers at this time of day, means that the beams of light are only slightly dispersed. This results in a hard light. The sun is a puntiform light source casts sharp shadows and there is a stark difference in brightness between the illuminated areas and the shadow areas.

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Blue Hour

The blue hour – the hour of the artists, romantics and the photographers. Too dramatic? The fact is that at this time of day and with the right photographic equipment, extremely interesting images are captured. In these images, the sky is a deep blue.

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Night Photography

The procedure of capturing an image is comparable to the “blue hour” photography. Due to the weak light that is available at night, a tripod is usually required. The ISO rate should be kept low in order to preserve image quality.

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For most photographers, the sun is the most important light source. For more than 90% of photos, sunlight is the only source of light. But unfortunately, most photographers pay more attention to their flash attachment user’s manual even though the flash spends more time in a photographer’s bag, than to the lighting conditions that the sun provides. Many amateur photographers use the warm light in the late afternoon and in the early hours of the evening and rejoice in beautiful sunsets.

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Available Light

“Available light“ is the light that is at hand. Natural and artificial light can provide “available light”.

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