Fundamentals

Direction of light

Direction of light

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.

Colour of light

Colour of light

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.

Quantity of light

Quantity of light

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.

Ambient v Added light

Ambient v Added light

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.

Where it all began

Where it all began

My own journey to learn about light started about 15 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.