Light is an essential element of every photo. And the right lighting photography techniques are indispensable for a successful finish. Poor light conditions run the risk of spoiling your picture, from a dark or dull environment to light that’s too harsh. Here are five types of light that will make your photos pop.
1. Natural light
Unless you’re a studio photographer, it stands to reason that you’ll mostly take your photos in natural light. Here are a few techniques for managing the light and improving your photography.
To start, pay attention to the dominant colour of the surrounding light. In the same place, and depending on the conditions, the light could be mainly orange-red (at sunset or in the light of an incandescent bulb) or rather blue, for example on a sunny day by the sea. So you need to shoot your photo according to the light, playing with the white balance (using the WB control button on your camera).
To shoot a beautiful portrait in natural daylight, avoid direct sunlight which can cast shadows on the face, and take your picture in the shade (ideally just out of the sun), so you’ll achieve beautiful, even lighting.
You can also use the interplay of natural light indoors. Placing your subject next to a window will provide soft lighting and allow you to play with the shadows to bring true personality to your portrait.
2. The golden hour
In the language of Tennyson, the golden hour refers to the very special light that appears only at certain times of the day, in particular at sunset or sunrise. It’s quite simply THE perfect light for lending your pictures a beautiful atmosphere. The colours will be warmer, the sun less strong and the horizon less hazy.
On your landscape photos, the scenery will be bathed in a gentle golden light, bringing character to your photograph. If you prefer taking portraits, make use of the light at the end of the day or at sunset, turning your subject to face the sun. This lighting is particularly flattering because it surrounds the face in a pretty halo, naturally fading out minor imperfections.
But be careful about the interference of shadows. While the sun is much lower in the sky than it is in the middle of the day, shadows grow longer and create overexposed zones.
3. The blue hour, between dusk and dawn
If you have missed the golden hour of the day, don’t worry, as you still have the blue hour. This is the time when the daylight is mostly gone, but night hasn’t yet fallen. This is a unique moment of the day when the blue of the sky takes on intense tones. Adjust your settings in advance, because everything plays out in the space of a few minutes.
The blue hour is a lighting photography technique which is used especially for landscapes or street photography. From the main avenues of New York to the reflections in a lake surrounded by nature, take advantage of this moment to produce shots filled with naturally intense colours.
Consider taking a tripod to avoid a blurred result: in weak light, you need a slower shutter speed.
And if you’re shooting with a reflex, activate the RAW setting of your camera, if possible, so you can really bring out the colours in the developing or retouching stages.
4. The flash
Whether it’s a question of opening up a photo with a fill flash technique, or more simply brightening up an environment or subject that’s too dark, the flash is the photographer’s best ally when it comes to lighting.
The flash gives you control of the lighting. Light intensity, the direction of the light and even the number of light sources (in cases where several flashes are used) are all reliable approaches to help you achieve the desired final finish of your photo.
Using a flash brings a very personal touch to your picture, in contrast with more classic photos. It’s the favourite technique of Terry Richardson and a number of leading fashion photographers. It creates the impression of a photo taken spontaneously, with an almost homemade feel that’s less focused on details, evoking a realistic atmosphere once printed.
With this particular lighting photography technique, you’ll adopt a totally graphic style.
It’s about playing with the sun by placing it behind your subject in order to create a contrast, like a shadow puppet. To achieve this, you need powerful, strong sunlight.To accentuate this shadow effect, don’t hesitate to overexpose your photo and use a narrow aperture.
Another subject for trying out backlighting: the portrait. Find a ray of sunlight, and position yourself so that you’re not directly facing your subject and the sunlight appears to make a halo around him or her. Also, be sure to control the ‘flare’, which could appear on your picture, by using a sun shield. Finally, opt for the beginning or the end of the day so that the sun isn’t too high in the sky.