The quantity of light is probably the easiest concept for people to grasp. Essentially it determines what exposure settings you need in your camera, and – if adding light – how much power you need from your flash or added light source. But don’t fall into the trap that many photographers fall into, when learning about light.
When talking about the quality of the light, often what people mean is whether the light is hard or soft. What does this mean, how do you create it, and is soft light really the only type of light you should aspire to?
If we want to talk about light in a photo – especially for the purposes of understanding it and learning it – we really need to divide that light into what the photographer creates and what the photographer doesn’t create. We also need terms to talk about those two types of light, regardless of what their actual source is.
My own journey to learn about light started about 10 years ago, before I started photographing weddings, but at a time when I was attending a lot of friends’ weddings, and every now and then coming away with nice photographs. When I’d look at what made a photograph appeal to me, it would often be the light. And often not the primary light, but the accent light added by a lamp, or a flash, or an open doorway. I realised that light had the potential to make or break a photograph, and I wanted to understand that. I also realised that there would be times when you’d need to create your own light, and I wanted to know how to do that.
Light has its own lexicon, and not understanding the terminology makes learning it difficult. Additionally, different people talk about the same things in different ways. So before going any further, it’s time for some definitions.
Photographers are obsessed with light. Not just light – good light, beautiful light, seeing the light, finding the light. But what do you do when there’s no good light, or it’s the wrong colour or direction, or maybe there’s simply not enough light?