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A Basic Introduction To Making Light Work Outdoors

A Basic Introduction To Making Light Work Outdoors - Light's an important tool for photographers and it's important to know how to make the most of it when working outdoors.

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Category : General Photography
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Photo by David Clapp


Light is an ingredient that photographers can not be without and if you learn to understand the basics of it right from the start, you'll improve your images drastically. So, to help you understand this topic a little further, we'll take a look at how daylight can vary, what subjects different times of the day / year suit best and how you can further enhance the light that's there to improve your shots. 

A sunny day presents many advantages when it comes to photography including faster shutter speeds, smaller apertures and good colour saturation. However, really strong sunlight at certain times of the day will actually spoil your shots rather than enhance them. The strong sunlight around noon can be very harsh and as a result produces bleached out colours, excessive contrast and deep, downward shadows which aren't flattering for any subject (particularly portraits where dark shadows under the nose, mouth and chin will appear). A rule of thumb many go by is to head out with your camera before 10am or after 4pm when the sun produces longer shadows. If you do have to capture your portraits when the light's at its strongest, use fill-in flash or bounce light back onto your subject with a reflector (position it close to your subject and you'll see an immediate softening). 

As a general rule, you don't want the sun behind you when photographing people, because your subject will be staring straight into the sun and squinting unpleasantly when it's too bright. Side-lighting, with the sun hitting your subject from just one side, creates much better results, especially if you use your reflector to bounce light back into the shaded side of the face. For even more dramatic results, try shooting into-the-sun to create a silhouette or use your reflector or flashgun to capture an image with a halo of light around your subject. 


Photo by Joshua Waller


A  better type of light for portraits is the type you get on a sunny but light cloudy day as the clouds soften and diffuse the light - very much like that produced by a studio softbox. This type of soft, directional light isn't only great for portraits either as a wide range of subjects, including landscapes and many types of nature photography, also benefit from this type of light. 

On days where cloud cover is slightly thicker and as a result, there are very few shadows, you'll probably want to stay away from landscapes and architecture. Instead, focus your attentions on macro photography such as capturing images of flowers in your garden. 


Photo by Rick Hanson 


During the winter months, the sun sits low in the sky all through the day making it an ideal time for expanding your texture and pattern collections. Although, you don't want the wintry day to be heavily overcast as there will be no shadows and light levels are very low. However, this doesn't mean you can't take images on grey days, you just need to have a slightly different approach. Landscape photographer John Gravett got it spot on when he said: "There is no such thing as bad weather – only different types of lighting." When working with very overcast conditions, especially when it's raining, much of the colour of the landscape is taken away so take advantage of this and capture some photos in monochrome. By doing so, you'll be able to focus on textures and tone rather than colour which will emphasise the mood of the day and other elements in your shots.  


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