Friday, June 5, 2015

Follow Sarah Homework: Light

The essence of photography is recording light. The very best photographers know exactly how to use and/or manipulate light to get the images they want.

Light can be broken down into 3 particular qualities that you will need to pay attention to:

  • Quality
  • Quantity
  • Direction

Light Quality can most easily be described with 2 adjectives; hard or soft.
Hard light tends to produce shadows with well defined, sharp edges. The transition between light and shadow is abrupt.
Soft light produces a smoother gradation between light and shadow, so that the shadow edges look feathered or soft for a smooth transition.

Quantity refers to intensity or how much light there is. An even exposure will generally have shadow, highlight, and well exposed midtones. Images with lots of light and little midtone or shadow are referred to as "high key." Images that are dark and have less light are called, "low key."

Direction refers to where the light is coming from in relation to your subject. Light direction is key for creating shape.

All of these qualities can be manipulated (and/or planned, if shooting in natural light) to produce whatever effect the photographer desires. Instruments used to manipulate the quality of light are known as "light modifiers" or simply "modifiers."
The job of a modifier is to manipulate the light that is available, whether natural or artificial, to produce a desired effect.
There are 3 main ways light is modified; by reflection (which can modify all 3 light qualities) diffusion (which tends to modify quality and quantity) and flagging (which "eats" light and affects quantity)

Reflection is the most common way to manipulate light and one of the easiest since reflectors can be found almost everywhere. Certain kinds of reflectors can even serve to diffuse (larger sources such as a wall or the side of a building and white colored material) or intensify (silver reflectors or "hard" surfaces that have highly reflective properties like mirrors) available light rather that just redirecting it.

Diffusion refers to breaking the light up with the main goal of diminishing it's quantity and often softening it. Sheer window curtains are  good example. They diminish the amount of light coming through the window and break the light up so that it's softer as well.

Flagging is a term used to describe blocking the light and is most often done with something black, such as a piece of foam core board or a black material. The purpose is to block the light or reduce it. Light can be flagged from a subject or even from the camera itself.

When you are preparing for a shoot, it's best to visualize what kind of light you want and plan accordingly. If you are shooting in natural light then you need to know exactly what kind of light you want. Morning and evening provides diffuse directional light with morning light being cooler and evening light being warmer. Mid day produces hard light that comes from high angles and is not generally considered flattering for most people without some kind of modification.
If you use artificial light, you have a few more options and aren't quite as hampered by the position of the sun.

Your job this week is to start paying attention to light. Look around you and see where the light is coming from? What angle is it falling at? Is it hard or soft? Is there a lot of light, or just a little? How is it falling on the faces of the people around you? Is it flattering?
Take 1 day out and shoot all 3 qualities. It doesn't need to be a person as long as the light quality is evident. Post 3 photos in the comments below that show all 3 light qualities and explain what you are showing in each photo; quality (hard or soft) quantity (a lot of light or just a little) and direction (light that is coming from an angle)

Also, watch this great tutorial from B&H photo with Neil van Niekerk. He get's much more in depth with light than I can do here.

Direction of Light: Your Key to Better Portrait Photography

If you have a bit of money to use, I would advise you to invest in this course by Tony Corbell on Creative Live (if you don't have an account yet, GET ONE! Creative Live is one of the best resources you can have) because the depth of knowledge is fantastic and you come back to it any time  you like.


  1. Direction of light: I positioned the couple between the light source (sun) and I and caught the sun streaming in between them. This angle still allowed for a soft light on their sides that were facing me, some rim lighting around the couple and a sun flare that gave the picture a "magical" feel that I knew the couple wanted.

  2. Quality of light: This portrait was shot around 630pm when the sun was still high but I used a barn to block out the harsh sun. Which provided us with some nice, soft lighting. Shadows are minimal and feathered.

  3. Quantity of Light: This portrait was also shot at 630pm so it was too bright to shoot in the open and pretty dark in the shaded areas. I found a spot with a good amount of sun streaming through the trees and used it to light up my subjects. I didn't compensate properly in camera for the large "quantity" of sun coming through and blew out the little girls hair, but it does demonstrates "quantity of light" and the lighting is still beautiful and fun.

  4. I agree with you. You've got a very sweet moment and I agree with your assessment of where you missed the exposure. This is a great example of a circumstance where a secondary light source, like a reflector or off camera flash, would be invaluable because if you had dialed down your exposure to compensate for the quantity of sunlight that would have left the little girls face underexposed and you would have had to do some selective brightening in post to have an acceptable exposure.
    Still, you've got a sweet photo and the quality of the light lends a magical feel to the image. Well done!

  5. As far as the quality of light you are spot on. This is, indeed, soft light.

  6. Right on. You have a few great things going on here. You are right as to the direction of light being the most important quality of the light in this shot because it allows you to get that sun flare that you wanted and providing that light "wrapping" at the edges. Your own body is actually providing some of the fill light by reflection that is keeping the light softer on the side of their bodies facing you. Evening sunlight is also more diffuse which makes the quality of light a bit softer as well.

    I wont talk about composition since that isn't the focus of this homework assignment, but great job demonstrating light direction as well as how and why you chose to use it in this shot.