A Shot In The Dark Posts

Very often the lighting is the tricky part of a photograph like this, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes – as in here – the tricky bit is finding the composition. Where to take the shot, and how to frame it up. All the more so when there’s a storm brewing. And the solution to a good frame can be an unexpected one.

This is very simple unposed shot, with no light added by me. The light is all what was already present in the scene. The challenge, therefore, is not how much light to use, or where to place it. In this case the required skill is to make the most of the light present, assessing it and putting it to good use.

So you have a flash, you know how to use it (at least in a basic sense), and you know what it does. But what about the question of when to use it. What are the things that should inform your decision to add light to a photograph? In the first of two posts on this topic, today we’ll focus on adding light to solve problems.

A wedding photographer needs to be fairly adaptable, and able to adjust to any situation. With experience comes the ability to deal with the unexpected, and to bring some control to uncontrollable situations. One of the benefits of learning how to light is that it gives you a particularly useful tool in your bag to help to do just this.

It’s a stormy day, you’ve had limited scope for any particularly creative photographs so far, and you want to capture a stand out photo for the couple. Outdoors isn’t looking promising, the drinks reception location is busy and the only option is the marquee that’s soon to be used for the dinner. But how to get creative in such a space?

They say that practice makes perfect, and that’s certainly true when it comes to learning how to shoot creatively and effectively in low light situations. The reality, though, is that you’re not always going to easily find yourself in a situation where you have a suitable location, a willing subject, and sufficient time – save, perhaps, organising practice shoots with friends or family where you can push the limits of what you think you know.  However those times where you’re not shooting need not be times where you’re not learning how to deal with low light or indeed bad light.

There are two routes you can take when moving beyond bounced flash to expand your knowledge – one path involves a realisation that that there’s a need to understand how flash works, and to learn how to take control of it for practical purposes of creating nice light when the available light is bad. The other path involves embracing the ability of flash photography to enhance your creativity. Playing the long game pays dividends.

There is a real benefit to learning to see light beyond the occasional possibility of making an award-winning or portfolio image, because let’s face it, even for the best of us such images are just a small percentage of the images we create day to day.  No, even for those day-to-day photos, learning to see light is a worthwhile thing to do. Whenever we raise our camera to our eye, there is literally an infinite number of possible images we could create. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by those possibilities. Letting light drive what shot you take, while sounding hard, actually makes things much easier.

We may know the light’s source, its quantity, its quality, and its colour. But where does it come from? What does it light, what doesn’t it light, and most important of all, how does it light it? All things considered, the direction of the light is the single most influential aspect on the “look” of your photograph. Get the direction wrong and even the most beautiful subject in the most beautiful light can fail to work as an image.

An often-overlooked aspect of light is its colour – it is something that photographers can underestimate. When someone talks about bad light, or muddy light, or indeed nice light or beautiful light, they usually mean both the quality of the light and the colour of the light – or more specifically, the colours (plural) of the lights (plural). Understanding colour, is key to making or finding good light.