Skip to main content

The Art of Seeing

Lesson 3 of 23

Looking for Light


The Art of Seeing

Lesson 3 of 23

Looking for Light


Lesson Info

Looking for Light

so enough about composition let's move on to light because light is the critical ingredient for every photograph this is magic light this's what we all love to encounter gorgeous sunset the sun's already down light is reflecting against the sky and you get this magical combination of warm afterglow that pink light and there's the bluish quality of twilight already this is why photographers like to be out early and like to stay out late that half hour before sunrise and half on hour after sunset are often the most special times unless you happen to find yourself in one of these narrow slot canyons in the american southwest because magic light then occurs in the middle of the day when the sun can penetrate all the way down to the bottom this is an unusual situation the sun was shining down into that canyon and hitting the water surface of reflecting back from the bottom of that creek white sand and then it was casting the shimmering surface quality of the water back onto the sandstone wa...

lls it's an image that is all about light now let's get a little bit more analytical what kind of different lights qualities can be recognized it's actually not that complicated you can have direct front light what does that do what does that do to a subject it enhances color which is why these flowers look so glowing early morning sun it enhances the color in his emperor payments photograph right after some rice that warm glow if the sun is behind your subject what does that emphasize shadows or shape indeed that's what emphasizes the shape in this marine iguana in the galapagos islands backlight emphasizes the shape in his bushman who are walking across a soul pan in the mojave desert now you can have the best of both worlds if you photographed a small fern in new zealand with the sun behind it and you hold the reflector in front of it you get both front light and backlight simple technique here's another kind of direct light here delight is coming in from the site what does that do to your subject shadow mood texture indeed it strokes the surface of things if you want to emphasize texture consider finding a way to put yourself at a ninety degree angle from the sun that is what I utilised here is a technique this is a piece of rock art on that bull in the desert of namibia and during the day it looked rather flat the details were not so visible so I waited until most of the late light was gone from the sky and then I painted the rock with flashlights and that really emphasize the surface quality the texture and all the fine reliefs in that rock engraving if you have cross light you're also able to use the effect of a polarizer most effectively which is what I did the dis image these air mountain goats in india and my polarizer enabled me to separate the clouds from the sky and saturate the greens what happens when light is flapped when there is no direct front light or backlight or sidelight when the sky's overcast what is that emphasize all of the above in my opinion so people who do not practice photography very often or very seriously I tend to think that is to sun that can make interesting pictures professional photographers often prefer to photograph things on their overcast skies in um or even illumination this's a brooding winter sky in the okavango delta and this is a typical misty morning in point lobos a spectacular nature reserve in the monterey bay but out on the influence of a direct some I'm able to express all the nuances in the landscape for evil and the light actually wasn't cell dramatic in this case eater it was a rainy overcast kind antarctica when we came upon this spectacular iceberg so those are the principles that I look for in light I try to utilize a kind of light at matches with the subject if I won't express color I look for front light if I want to express texture I look for sidelight if I'm interested primarily in the shapes I try to orient myself in a position with the subject that puts the sun behind it and if I want to express all of the above I hope for a rainy day or I bring out a big reflector so I work with light in a deliberate way and I'm going to come back to your question how do I take pictures how do I use my camera do I use my cameras a sketch path yes I do I was in the desert of new maybe um in this place called goose is flying where there are many trees many death three standing on this clay pan I went there the first day toe look for what lie did to the landscape and I started using my camera to create some different compositions this is a picture made with a telephoto lens I started looking for the relationship between the trees and these massive sand dunes and I noticed that as the light was coming down that there was an interesting moment than it hit the base of the clay pan when you couldn't sorry this is the earlier image can if this is when the sun is cheers making its way down by the time I had found the right spot the sun had already past the point of magic point but by looking back at my pictures from the morning I could see exactly where I needed to be and then I needed to be there and that is when I did this image the following day here I am kind of twenty minutes later in the same scene and you can see the magic is gone so when it comes to landscape photography it really helps to visit the same scene over and over again because ultimately it's all about light in the land and now of course many photographers have gone there looking for my tribe out holes to try and do that same scene again working mid light the often are struggling as photographers to control the contrast in a scene because even our modern digital cameras can only capture so many different stops of light before the highlights begin a blowout or because or before we lose shadow details that is our filters coming handy I'm using a graduated neutral density filter here and in this image I'm deliberately holding actually my subject is holding a plastic bag that algae samples frozen in snow in front of the sun to reduce the contrast for smaller subjects we can control contrast by using reflectors with different surface qualities here the reflector also doubles up as a diffuser and then a small reflector is bouncing light back into the flowers it's a very effective technique to create glamour lighting in flowers it's hollywood portraiture applied to plant look at the difference so we love to play with this technique when we go to our botanical garden in santa cruz but there's other ways in which you can create a more interesting illumination in small subjects this is a salamander in the santa cruz mountains it's a static portrait and I showed my students there how they could create amore interesting image of that salamander by using of white angle ends and an extension tube that was mounted between the camera and the wide angle lens that enables you to focus very very close and then one of my assistants I aimed a little flashlight at the salamander which sat there posing very conveniently this fuss the cella men there before the flashlight of us illuminating its face and this is afterwards you can see it begins to look more translucent and then a little bit later after we maneuvered ourselves into the right position this was the final image I have a question about this actually coming from marco france and its asking case same first will greetings from rotterdam and then he says what would you consider more important the light or the shadow that's a very interesting question first of all the fruit that rock on him in a long I'm going to come back to that in a minute because you can use yep techniques to add light to a situation but there's also a technique too take light away from the situation so come back to that in a minute anything that can project light into a situation can be used as a creative component in your images I've often used car headlight after dark and in this case I'm using the light that is coming from a camp fire uh to illuminate a sea cave mmm mmm mmm and hear some insects flying around after dark her illuminated by flashlight using a very long shutter speed so this is about a full second and I'm painting these insects it light if you do not use additional light elements you're done photographing at this time in today but if you bring a flash you can carry on into the wee hours of twilight I love this combination off ambient light fading from the sky that creates a bluish quality to the scene and then combining it a bit flash metal warm gel that creates an increase tonality so I added light to that situation but in this scene made in inner mongolia I'm camping out in a small village with your I deleted light I'm coming back to the question of us asked a few minutes ago the normal technique is to expose things properly by looking carefully for a history graham that peaks in the middle of your frame you can do that by letting your camera expose scenes in the matrix metering mode and then typically you arrive at an average exposure but everything captured as a as a as a neutral density but in this case I'm under exposing deliberately by more than three stops there was a lot of trash in the foreground of the situation so by under exposing I deleted all of that and the only thing that was left was thes people standing there next to their york and in this image I deliberately under exposed the sun setting over the pacific ocean by more than to stop to create a very graphic image but back to the phil flash the quiver tree in a desert of south africa where I painted it with my flash moving it off to decide strobes have become very sophisticated tools in the old days you had to compute everything manually thes days modern strobes made by nikon and cannon and other manufacturers enable you to put the strobe in I t t l through the lens meet oring mode and it'll figure out the best yet output based on the reflectivity of the subject I use a lot of flash when I work with animals here I'm illuminating the faces of hippos that are floating in a river in zambia there's a little bit of light reflecting back from their faces my cameras on the tripod I'm using a very long shutter speed to let the border flow around them and because of that long shutter speed some of the faces are a little bit coasted this is a scene close to where I live in santa cruz california were fantastic seascapes and we have great tide pools but it was a little bit gloomy in that morning when the tide was going out so I used the flash to illuminate to see stars in the foreground and it created a very nice highlight in combination with the surf that spraying in the background yes uh with the with the shot of the hippos a couple minutes ago when did you do the flash on that you said it was a long exposure when was the flash was it at the end of the exposure at the beginning andi I usually have my flash set for a rear curtain setting which is especially interesting if your subject is in motion because then you get a sharp it at at the front of the subject and a ghost on the on the on the trailing edge in the case of the hippo didn't really matter that much so this is the uh yeah the equipment that I use for that type of shot the six hundred millimeter lens and I have to throw you put on a bracket made by company called really write stuff and then both of the strobes hada for nil attachment that projects the output of the strobe quite a bit further this is a device that quite a few wildlife photographers now apply as well we've seen an extraordinary improvement in camera technology in the last five years the censors have gotten better and better and now I can photograph without having the use my flash at all I made this picture of bushmen in the kalahari desert just from the light of a flickering campfire and I was even able to photograph the rising moon and the twinkling stars behind him but I'd using any yeah exterior lighting just at campfire and the moonlight and on that same trip from which I recently returned in the kalahari desert we were there of it some friends on the private safari and we were all sitting around a campfire and I was able to photograph them with the fire and the smoke coming off and at the same time illuminate the milky vie with a time exposure the old days of being limited by film that only has an effective eso rating of fifty or a hundred are long gone I can now use that my nikon d four I can use an effective is a rating of one hundred thousand which is truly spectacular the downside is that there's no more excuses to sleep because there's always something to photograph shall we have some great questions from our students but we do have some great questions coming in online this one came from greg and greg was asking france you were talking about stopping the aperture away down but how far are you going f sixteen f twenty two of thirty six are you not concerned about diffraction degrading the image over eleven that's a good question I should point out that there's a difference between the sharpness of the lens and the depth of field which really determines how much of your subject is in focus so most lenses are at their sharpest then you put the aperture between eight and eleven but that does not give you the maximum depth of field personally I find that a bit my nikon lenses I don't really have to be that concerned about a loss of sharpness when I extend my depth of field him and I closed my aperture all the way to twenty two or thirty six I think it's made mainly a concern for photographers who are doing very detailed subjects like tabletop photography where other commercial applications now we have sara comes in the second carriage we have a lot of photographers in our chairman along online today so welcome to all of you and one viewers same franz are you going to be able to relate this to those of us who cannot travel the world I want to know how this I could relate my photography to just ordinary life and how I could be able to see what is available to me that's always a challenge isn't it yeah how can you get inspired by what is close at home and well I actually started photographing things close to home I will show some pictures in in a next talk that are good examples of that andi I believe that if you can't find interesting photographs in your own backyard or in a city park or in your local beach you certainly won't be able to come up with interesting images in africa or in antarctic eater it really pays off to find a subject that you can go back to time and again good photographs are often the result of a photographer developing a relationship with this subject and beginning to understand it better both from the insight when you know what's going on and that's certainly the case with animal photography but also if you photographing landscapes because delight really needs to be judged time and again before you understand what the best situations are so I would urge the person who asked his question to find something that he or she is really interested in that really tickles they're fancy and then to put the blinders on and to give that subject time great advice carol please I don't question about how you make decisions about your minimum safe distance you're climbing a termite mound to shoot a lion hippos are notoriously cranky you're getting up close and personal you spent a lot of time with carnivores in botswana so how do you make personal choices about you know howto do those great shots while remaining safe I I still have all my limbs so I must have learned something I spent a lot of time studying the behavior of animals so I've read a lot I talk a lot that scientist and you know that enables me to recognize the patterns pattern recognition is key to fit our ifyou're not just for helping yourself build better compositions but also anticipating the behavior of animals so you can frame it and ultimately to keep yourself out of trouble now I must say that most animals even the so called dangerous ones I consider to be quite polite even rhinos in hippos they just don't want to be bartered tae with rather be left alone so I pay a lot of attention to their body language and when I see them get nervous or annoyed with me I don't go any closer now having said that sometimes I make mistakes and you know they will tell me that I need to know it means backing off and often I get into trouble then I try to do things too fast you know we tend to wanted to accomplish so much in the course of a given field trip and it doesn't matter very photographing a small bird or a big mammal in africa we want to get close and we want to get that picture and it's usually better let an animal yeah get used to your present yeah I have a question about a flash and animals I work a lot with horses and every time I tried to take pictures off over horse with a flash ah I have this thing when their eyes reflect too much of a flash so it's like huge white thing in there I almost looks like a disease or something have you ever seen that how how do uh work around that um that's a good question I think that effect comes from having the camera you having a flash on camera if you used the flash off camera at an angle you're not going to see that flash reflect back from the ice of the horse back into the camera actually tried to do the ad um I don't know maybe it's big like I used a flesh ah off the camera on the stand with south boxes so maybe it's a soft bugs that craze that do you because it was like classical light on the forty five angle of the camera huh maybe it's because the eyes are bulbous and the and the flash was hitting the the other side of the ice I would have to take a look at the picture in order to understand better what's going on there but typically if you want to avoid eye shine no matter what you're photographing humans or other animals she want to put your camera you want to put the flash off camera uh another question on flush when you're working with wild animals how close do you have to be within without the fur now lands for the flash to be effective on it all depends on the reflectivity of the subject so it's it's hard to give a specific rule it depends on the reflectivity of the subject and it also depends on the aperture of the lens and it depends on the effect if I s o writing so you have three variables to work man and the best way to figure out what most effective setting is to do a couple of sketches try first exposure and see if you're in the ballpark franz we've had a ton of questions about your gear what lenses you use how many cameras you carry your tripods et cetera et cetera we are going to talk a lot about that later on but can you just talk for a moment about your very basic travel gear package yeah I have uh uh you know the simplest kit is my cell phone the next step up is a small sony are x one hundred snapshot camera that I could shoot roll files with that is my family snapshot camera on and then beyond it I use a nikon six ten that a twenty four to one twenty millimeter lens that goes with me on short trips and then I want to really go to work I will carry a small garage gear pack that six ten and twenty four on twenty and a seventy two two hundred millimeter nick or lands or in eighty two four hundred millimeter lens then I really goto work rival travel pack a two hundred four hundred four telephoto lens usually that a couple of extenders of one point four or two times converter and if I can get away that it'll also pack of five hundred four fixed focal length linds and those two lenses are really yeah my preferred lenses for photographing wildlife from a distance with

Class Description

Join world-renowned National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting for two days of instruction and inspiration that will change the way you look at photography and what you can do with your own camera.

With experiences from three decades of work in wild places – from the Amazon to Antarctica, Frans will introduce you to new ways to capture the wonders of the natural world with a camera. His class includes presentations about creative ideas and technical skills, and also features landscape and wildlife photography instruction during special field workshop sessions at prime photographic destinations along the California coast — Frans’s home ground for the past 30 years. The course will conclude with a critique of images submitted by viewers.

If you’re passionate about nature photography and want to improve your own photographic vision, you will be inspired by this unique course from a master photographer and teacher.



I was very excited to be chosen as one of the two students to be in the field shooting for this course. I have been shooting for a long time, but to be in the field with a world renowned nature photographer like Frans Lanting is a bit intimidating to say the least! However when we met that morning at 5:30AM to start shooting, Frans could not have been more charming. He put everyone at ease, and his enthusiasm to go capture fantastic images was infectious. He is an excellent instructor and has a way of sharing his knowledge that is very effective. It was truly inspiring to be involved (in a small way) in creating this course and also being a part of the live studio audience. Thank you again to Frans and the CreativeLive team. I have learned so much in a very short period of time and have been truly inspired by being around all of you. It was an invaluable experience that I will not soon forget!Keep up the great courses – clearly you are filling an important need for many people all over the world. CreativeLive rocks !


In response to the person who made the comment about the attendees not taking a lot of notes: I was an attendee. I believe every person had something to take notes with. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, when I was told the attendees would be getting the class in our "My classes"; area and I could review it anytime I wanted, I chose to focus on the moment and not take a ton of notes. The Art of Seeing isn't a class chocked full of camera settings and gear guides; it is about figuring about what impact you want to make with your images and then creating those images followed up with examples and then refining your vision - telling a story. If the presentation had been more of a technical how-to, I might have taken more notes in class. I would encourage people not to be distracted by attendees not taking notes and I would hope after 2 days of instruction, if I enjoyed the presenter, that an informational list of his/her work or upcoming events would be posted so I could find out more. Frans Lanting is a fantastic storyteller. His willingness to show his vision and share his wisdom says much about who he is. He is one of the greatest photographers of our time. His desire to be eye to eye with the animals shows us the humanity in them, and in doing that, slowly helps to erase the line between Them and Us, making us all One. Just like Ansel Adams exposed us to and charged us with the knowledge of things we didn't know existed, therefore making us responsible for their safekeeping, Frans reveals animals to us that most of us will never have contact with outside of a zoo. He takes us into their living room, introduces us, enchants us, and then exposes how our actions impact them. But more than that, he doesn't just take us to far off and fantastic places, he looks in his very own community. Not all of us can be a National Geographic photographer, but this class shares with us how we all can make a difference in our own communities. And THAT, well, we are all capable of that.

Robert Felice

This was a very good course, I learned a lot from the lectures, and I also picked up some good tips. Frans spent a bit of time trying to convince us that being a National Geographic photographer is nowhere as glamorous as you imagined it to be. He also emphasized just how much time it takes to capture a great image. I found the Field Trip lessons were useful demonstrations of how to work a scene, The last three lessons were about Frans' LIFE project, which I found interesting, but somewhat incidental to the main subject of the course. The images were breathtaking, however, and perhaps they will inspire me.

Explore More Free Classes


Enjoy the free classes? Get 2000+ more Classes and watch it anytime, anywhere.

Get The Pass