Natural Light: Direct Sunlight
All right, folks, let's talk about light and I'm gonna break it up into a lot of different easily digestible sections and so I like to break things up as simply as it can be, or at least as I can figure it out. And so we're gonna talk about natural light. And then we'll talk about artificial light and adding our own light and we're just gonna take it one step at a time. We'll start with just using the built-in flash on your camera, slowly giving that off camera, using multiple strobes for taking portraits and so forth. And so first off, let's talk about the qualities of light. Things that you wanna think about when quantifying the light that you are in and working with. First up is the direction of light. Where is the light, and how does that affect your subjects? Where are the shadows gonna be? Where are the brightest portions of that subject going to be? Next thing to think about is the size of the light source. How big is it? And so you wanna be thinking about the sun. Sun is huge, ...
but relatively in the sky, it's really, really small. It's smaller than your thumb at arm's distance from you, and so it's gonna cause certain types of shadows that we're gonna talk about as we get through this section. Next up is the intensity. How bright is the light? The brighter the light, probably the brighter, or excuse me, the more significant the shadow is going to be. The edge from light to dark is gonna be more significant there. And you may want an intense light, but a lot of times photographers don't like intense light because the shadows are so drastic, but for certain types of photography, it's quite good. Next up is the color of the light and so we'll deal with that with different types of light bulbs. We'll deal with it with the sun in the morning or in the evening. It's a different color than it is in the middle of the day, and so, those are four different things to consider in any type of light situation that you are analyzing. So let's talk about natural light. And so there's a lot of ways to break up natural light, and so I might do it a little bit differently than most people, but that's good. Variety is good. Now, in many situations, the ideal that I would like to have is that I would like to choose the subject. Okay, I'm gonna shoot this thing. And this is the type of light that I would like to work with and then I would go out there and I would shoot that. Fact of the matter is is that pretty much never happens with me. What happens is that I decide that I wanna go shoot something, I go to shoot it, and whatever light happens to be there, changes how I shoot it. I adapt to the conditions that are at hand, and that's because I do a lot of outdoor and travel photography and there's no, you can do about light, other than coming back at a different time. And I will do that if I really don't get what I want. But I have always found it best to go, okay, this is the hand of cards that I have been dealt, what is the best that I can get out of this particular dealing right there? And that way, you can almost always walk away with something rather than saying, I have to have the light this one way and I'm not gonna come back until I get it. Sometimes that works when you need a very, very specific type shot, but for being a general photographer, it's good to be able to squeeze out something good out of any situation you can get yourself into. Now, there are different types of light. We're gonna talk about natural light first. Artificial light, we have speedlights, which are specifically lights that you would put on your camera. They're generally called speedlights, not flashlights. They actually fire very, very fast, which is why they are called speedlights. Strobe units are the types of things that you would put in a studio, and you would fire with, and then there are lightbulbs which is what the world is filled with. That's just kind of the entire other category that you can also use. There are people doing great photography going down to Home Depot, buying shop lights. There are inexpensive ways to light a certain type of scene. In your color correct form, they can work totally fine in some cases. So, this first section is on natural light and natural light can once again be broken down in to many different categories and that's what we're trying to do. Break things down to really talk about one thing at a time. We have direct light, indirect light and other. Now, the way I like dealing with lots of stuff is if there's something small and pesky, I like to get it out of the way right away. And so, other types of natural light would be fire, lightning, lava, bioluminescence. There can be some other things out there. These really aren't a major part of what you're gonna be dealing with and so we're kind of not gonna talk about them right now. So we have direct sunlight and indirect sunlight and these go by a variety of different names depending on who's talking about them. And so, sunshine versus ambient light. I hear people talk about ambient light. What it really is is just light reflecting around. And so these are the two major categories that we are going to walk through. And this section, I have to admit, is a little bit different than the rest of my class and so we're gonna be looking at a bit more photos than we have in the past and there's gonna be a lot of bullet points. You know, a few things to think about with each different type of light source. So the most common type of light that we're likely to deal with on any sort of regular basis is direct sunlight. So, good ol' sunny day out there. And this is gonna be, in some ways, a good time to go out and photograph, and in other ways, not so good. And so, let's look at some of the benefits, advantages and disadvantages of this. So, when you go out and photograph on a nice, sunny day, there is an abundance amount of light and so it's gonna be very easy to get photographs when it comes to setting shutter speeds and apertures and the ISO. Your ISO is gonna be nice and low. You're gonna be able to get fast shutter speeds, if that's what you want, very easily. You're gonna get typically very saturated colors in that time. The middle of the day can be very hard for some reasons, but it can also make for really good black and white images. It tends to be a little bit contrasty, which we'll talk about in the disadvantages, but that contrast actually becomes a benefit in black and white. And one of the things you'll notice as we continue to move through this class, and I don't think I've done it much up to this point, is I haven't shown you a lot of black and white work. And I am a big fan of black and white, though. It's how I got started. I've developed a lot of film, black and white film in the dark room. And I think it's a great way of displaying images. I'll have a whole section on black and white when we get into the photographic vision section and we'll talk about color versus black and white in there. And so, we'll see some more black and whites as we go through this class. And so, these shadows can help reveal depth and shape. And this is gonna be a common topic when we talk about light is texture and depth and shape because shadows really can reveal the shape of subjects depending on where it is. So the disadvantages of being out there in the direct sunlight is there's a very wide dynamic range. Things that are in the shadows are often hidden and hard to see. So if there's something important in the shadows, you're not gonna be able to see it very well. This high contrast just doesn't work out for some scenes and to be honest with you, it's a little difficult to work out on a bright, sunny day for a long period of time. Your eyes just get tired from all that light. It's hard to see images on the back of your camera. I know those of you who have mirrorless, can just look into the viewfinder and see what's going on, but it does tend to make things a little more difficult to work with in many regards. But it's very convenient as far as culturally. It's very easy to be outside at that time. So if you do need to go out in the middle of the day to shoot when you have direct sunlight, it's gonna be better when the sun is low on the horizon for reasons that we will continue to talk about in here. Middle of the day is often a great time for using the polarizer. So that's when that polarizer will have that strong effect. And I often think of this as kind of the Grand Landscape time. When you want the big picture so that people can see a great, big environment, it's usually taken in direct sunlight so that you can see it. One of the things you wanna be careful of is not including too much blank sky. I love the color of blue, but just blank blue up in the sky, sometimes doesn't look so good and so concentrate on the areas that have detail and information that people are gonna wanna know about. There are different types of direct sunlight and it basically has to do with where the sun is and what's getting illuminated so let's break things down a little bit further and take a look at some examples and talk about each of these different types of direct sunlight. So front light is where the front of your subject is fully illuminated or nearly fully illuminated with sunlight. And so, this is in some ways a very easy and simple and basic type of light. It's very powerful and it's very good for shooting like sports and action photography because you got a lot of light coming in on your subject and you can set, really, the fastest shutter speeds possible because you have the most amount of light coming in. We don't really have a lot of shadows, so your subject is fully illuminated which can be kind of easy and we're gonna get some really nice colors in here. And so it's just kind of a simple exclamation mark. It's not really the most exciting light, but it's a lot of it and a lot of color there. Disadvantages here is that because the light is coming straight on, it's what we call a flat light which means it's hard to see anything shapely and everything just kind of seems flat. It's hard to tell where things curve and bend and so forth. In this particular photograph, there's some details in the rocks on the bottom half of the photograph, but it's really kind of hard to see what that texture is. You can tell that there's something going on, but it's not real clear as to how rough it is and what's going on in that rock. And these scenes tend to lack a bit of depth. As I said, it just kind of seems flat in that regard. It's a little bit harsh in many different types of photography. We'll see this in portrait photography. It just doesn't look too good. If you are shooting in this type of direct sunlight, try to keep the sun low on the horizon, then you might get a little bit more in the way of some shadows and some shape with things. Wit the direct sunlight right behind you, the polarizer's not gonna have much effect. So if it's coming right behind you, not too much effect. You're gonna need the sun off to your sides. Either to your left side or to your right side. So that what you're shooting straight ahead is gonna have a good polarizing effect. And this can sometimes work with subjects that already appear or look good, that are flat. I'll show you an example of that, I think. So, straight on forward. It's not the most interesting lighting, but you know what? It's okay, because we have a pretty interesting subject. It's sharply in focus. And so, maybe it would be better with better lighting, but you know, this is a quick grab shot that I had five seconds to get and there was no going back six hours later when the sun was setting. And so you do the best that you can in the conditions that you're at. Front lighting, very straight, simple lighting. Yeah, this might be more exciting at another time of the day. But the camel auction happens at this particular time of day and he was available for these five minutes and that's when you can get your photo. But everything's illuminated fairly colorful image with a nice, blue sky there. Nice even lighting on this. Little bit of shadows on the lefthand side, but for the most part, fairly illuminated with front lighting. Next up is side light. And this would probably be one of my favorite scenarios for shooting and if I can get to work in side light and get my subject looking good in side light, that's often gonna be the most interesting type of lighting. And so, light's simply coming from the left or the righthand side. And now, we're gonna have a little bit of texture and depth. As those columns go up and down and that light wraps around them, you can really get a feel for that round column much better than you did when the light was just flat on on the front of it. You're gonna get some great effect with your polarizer because the sun is to the left and right of you. Gonna work very good when the sun is low on the horizon once again, and this is gonna really help separate a subject from a background so that you can see clearly the depth and scope of that particular scene and the person who's looking at your photograph will have a much better feel of what it was light to be there and experience that particular scenario. And so, up at Mount Rainier, side light coming in and the snow's starting to melt and there's all these sun cups in there and I'm thinking that light to shadow just looks really interesting. There's kind of a fun pattern in the foreground of that snow. Now, relatively speaking, it's only available for a short period of time. I know if, when I go up to Mount Rainier to shoot, which is one of my favorite places to go, the sunrise and the good time around sunrise is around an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, and there's this 12 hour period when it's not quite as interesting. And so you wanna be in place to shoot at that time. Limited shooting direction. So, some places on Mount Rainier, you can go up in the morning, but you're gonna fit the front light, depending on if you're on the east side or if you're on the west side. You gotta go there at sunset and you'll get front lighting. And so it does kind of force you into thinking about where you point your camera to get side lighting. So this is a good time to have your polarizer ready, as I've said many times. The word polarizer will come up a lot of times. I know that I'm repeating myself here, but sometimes it's just good to keep it in there 'cause it's part of what you should know for this particular subject. Let's see, what else in here do I wanna talk about? And so, keeping the sun as low on the horizon as possible will often keep, will allow you to get as many of those shadows in there that aren't too deep. And shadows can be good and shadows can be bad. If anyone's new to photography, you're like, "Does he like shadows or not?" And there are certain types of shadows that are good. If they're not too deep and you can see into them and it doesn't go too drastically from bright light to shadows, then it's often good. Now there's always exceptions and there's different types of photographs. In some cases, you may want really dramatic differences between the sunlight and the shadows. It really kind of depends. It's a love-hate relationship, is what it is. Nice sidelight coming in. Very good use of polarizer in there. More side light. Really gives you a feel for the shape of the face. More side light. Some areas in sun, some areas in shade. You get a good feeling for the landscape. The texture of it, the depth of it. Being in the right place at sunrise or sunset with the sun to your right or to your left, that's where you're gonna get some nice play between the light and the shadows. This was at a restaurant in, I believe it was Turkey. And she was just, she was rolling, I don't know, something for the meals we were eating and she was sitting on the ground, but she had this beautiful window that she was just sitting behind. She didn't need to move a single inch. She just had perfect light on here. But that little bit of light on one side of the face just gives you a little bit of texture on her face and gets a great feel for the shape of it. One of the trickier types of light to work with is back light, and so obviously, if the subject is illuminating the backside of your subject, and so you're kind of shooting the shadowed side of a subject. Advantage to this is that anything that is transparent is gonna let a little bit of light through and give you some highlighting. Some rim highlighting effects that will help separate your subject from the background. If we can see in this photograph, her hair is partially backlit and it's really separating her head from the background, the dark background there. And so it really stands out from the background in that case. Now, the front of her is all evenly illuminated. It's not mixed in bright sunlight and deep shadows in any case, and so you can have a nice, even exposure for a subject, in that case. You are kind of blowing out some of the highlights which is perfectly fine. They're not as important. So once again, looking for things that are transparent here. Now it can be a little bit tricky to get the right exposure. And this is where manual exposure will probably do a better job once you've got a couple of test shots to make sure that your photos and histogram and all making sense in getting the right exposure. Do watch out for flare, because when you are shooting into the sun, that's when you're most likely to get flare. On this particular shot, I felt I was very creative because I found a subject that I wanted to shoot and I knew that I could move a little bit from side to side to get the shot and there was a tree off to the side and I was able to stand just between so that the tree blocked the sunlight coming in my lens because sometimes this is gonna be a situation where the sun is still gonna get into your lens even with a hood on the front of your lens. And so if you can, you may have to put your hand out or find something else to block it with. The other key thing for getting in a shot like this is the dark background. You wanna find a background that doesn't have a lot of sunlight on it. And there are kind of unusual situations where you have this light subject with this dark background, but it's something we'll talk more about later on in this class. So we got our transparent subjects. It's gonna work better when the sun is low in the sky. We talked about blocking the lens there. And then finding those dark backgrounds. And so in this case, tiger's got this rim lighting around the edge which really separates it from the dark background on the ground behind it. Gentleman on the left is evenly illuminated. Nice, even lighting on the face. You can really see him very easily and notice that rim lighting coming around his hat and his arms, really separate him from the background. Giving it almost a 3D effect and it's nice to be able to separate your subject that much from the background. When there's dust in the air and things like that, that's something else that's gonna help scatter the light, that adds a little bit of atmosphere to the shots. Arches National Park. These are rock thins, and you can see great detail in here because it's pretty much all in the shadows, but we have those just little hints of rim lighting coming around the edge that separate one thin from the next. Some wine bottles illuminated from behind. There was actually a cloud that moved in front of it and so this is without that back lighting. This is just kind of ambient lighting, lighting that's bouncing around here, reflected light. And having that lighting coming through those wine bottles is really nice because it's gonna add a little bit more color and sparkle to those. Direct overhead light. Not the favorite light for most photographers. And so, sun's high up in the sky. There are some advantages. You can work up at very convenient hours and get lazily out of bed. Start the day at 10:00 in the morning or something. You can shoot for a long period in the middle of the day, and it's really easy technically because you got a ton of light, you probably don't need a tripod and I know I've been out doing landscape photography and I'm just trying to make use of the day. I know it's not the best time to be out there but I wanna go out for a good hike anyway. I don't need to worry about bringing the tripod because I can still shoot at f/22, and handhold the camera because there's more than enough light out there during these times. So it's very, very convenient. But there are some serious disadvantages. It's a very wide, dynamic range. In this particular photograph, we can see the object in front of us pretty well, but that gigantic sea stack rock there, we have a hard time. And that's because of the shadows. Now, the object in the foreground, we can see into the shadows there pretty well and that's because the light is reflecting off of the sand, to the shadows areas of that subject and it's all pretty close to the sand. It's only like a foot, foot and a half away. Getting light back up onto that rock back there, well, it's gotta travel much further distance because it's gotta go back down to the sand and then all the way back up, and it just becomes this dark, almost, you can barely see it, it because almost a silhouette in that case and so anything important in those shadows, they're gone and they're no longer part of the picture. And it does have a very ordinary look because that's the way we usually look at the world and so the biggest tip is just to avoid it. And so, I go out on a lot of photo trips, photo road trips, and so my photo road trip usually consists of driving several hours or days away from where I live and the middle of the day is all about driving and getting to a new location and then I'll shoot at sunset and then download at night, get my rest, and get up early in the morning, shoot sunrise, and then either I'll drive to the next location or I'll take a nap in the afternoon and not worry about things. But I'll try to work those evening hours as much as possible for doing landscape photography. And so here is, in the middle of the desert, in a late, late morning, almost mid afternoon and you can just see, there is not much in the way. This is not a good photo. I'm not showing you this 'cause I think this is a good photo. This is kind of a bad example of, this is what happens when you get really flat lighting overhead. Now, there are some things that look perfectly fine under this type of lighting. Shooting airplanes like this. They have light coming in at the top. They're getting illuminated. Nice, colorful, powerful light. Allows you to shoot with really fast shutterspeeds. It's not bad all the time. In this case, once again, it was kinda like the first shot I showed you. There was light bouncing off of the dirt, which is actually very light in color and which is acting as a natural reflector filling in the shadows of all the tulips here. And so the difference between the bright sun and shadows is not that much because there's a natural reflector working in our favor. Another type of direct lighting is spot lighting and this is where we're gonna get a narrow beam of light illuminating part of our subject. It's not real common, but if you have the opportunity to take advantage of it, shoot all that you can because it comes and goes very, very quickly, that is for sure. And so it can really yield a very dramatic effect on a shot because it's fleeting. It only lasts for a very shot period of time and so it's gonna give you that unique look and it's gonna highlight, potentially, the right area and so your timing needs to be right on this. And so, this is spot lighting just caused by light being in the right position. As it rounding a building, we get these bits of highlight on these statues here. You will have a very wide dynamic range in some cases and it's almost like back lighting or rim lighting in some cases. And this is another case where manual exposure is probably gonna rule the day because of the unusual mix of light and shadows. This is where you probably wanna shoot in manual exposure. Check it on the back on your camera, in your viewfinder, look at your histogram, make some adjustments, and proceed from there. So as I say, get the camera out of the auto-exposure mode. In many cases, you don't need to worry too much about a few hot spots. I know people have the blinkies turned on on the back of their camera and it's not that any blinky is a bad thing, it's just kind of a warning that there may be a problem and then it's up to you to decide how much of a problem is this one little area that's blinking. If it's half the photo, you really wanna take a good look at that because that might be a problem. This is one of those areas that exposure bracketing might come in handy. We talked about that back in the exposure section and shooting a series of three and potentially five or more shots, depending on how extreme the situation is, because, you wanna take advantage of these and you don't wanna miss that exposure when you're out there. And just be aware of your environment and what's going on with where the sun is. Maybe you're deep in city blocks, but the sun's gonna hit a certain gap that's gonna illuminate a street in a certain way, or you see a cloud pattern where it's kind of opening up, and you're gonna see that light's gonna come in. It's kind of, I mean, I'm fascinated by the weatherman on TV because they give you a prediction of the weather and I'm trying to become a light predictor, you know? What is the light going to be like in an hour or tonight? And so I'm constantly looking at the clouds and the weather to see, are we gonna have good conditions? And it's really, really hard to predict. I don't know if anyone saw the light coming in today but we had some really cool light coming in today, but, didn't have time to shoot today (laughing), Gotta take care of business today. In Athens, the Colosseum, not the Colosseum. The parthenon, or pantheon? Parthenon, up on the hill here as the sun comes up over the horizon, it's gonna strike things that are highest first. In about an hour, the entire city here is gonna be bathed in sunlight so having this one little area up above everything else, allows us to get that spot light on it. In Yosemite National Park, let's see, this would be at, I believe, sunset here. You know, last rays as the sun's going down. It's hitting half-dome right at the very top. And so these taller structures will be able to get that last little bit of light which separates it from everything else. And one of the things we'll talk about in Photographic Vision, the last section, is that your eyes are attracted to bright subjects. And so if it's bright, it's probably more significant than what's dark in the photograph. And so that's one of the ways that this is just intrinsically working in a particular photograph. So we have our tall peak getting bathed in sunlight before fully illuminates the rest of the valley.
Question had some in from Gordon of GM4 Designs. What if there is a wide dynamic range between the hot spots and the black areas? Should I go bright or dark?
Well, it depends on what's in those bright spots and those dark spots because the general rule of thumb is don't let the hot spots get overexposed. It's more natural in a general photograph that we can see up to the brightest things, but the darkest things, sometimes we just can't see. And so the way we see the world, very seldom is there anything that we can look at with our own eyes that's so bright, we can't see it. Generally, there's the sun. Sometimes, like studio lights like these are kinda bright, but I can still look directly up at this light and I can see detail of it. Okay, now I'm blind. (laughing) Ah, no. But it's quite common that there are things in the shadows that are very, very dark, and so, generally speaking, you wanna protect the highlights. But every once in a while, there's some rim lighting on subjects that just doesn't matter and it's more important what's in the shadows and it's a balance and I can't give you a for sure if it's one or the other. It tends to be to protect the highlights, but there's plenty of exceptions where you go the other direction on that.
Great, thank you. One question from Gabriela. Is there an app that you would recommend for light prediction or giving a particular location, a certain time of day? Do you know of any?
I know that there are some apps out there. I don't use a lot of apps. There's a few apps that I use. There are ones that'll tell you where the sun is and where it will be at a particular time. I'm just kind of more old school. I like to go out there and actually see it and I found that some of them are not totally accurate depending on the size of the hill. And oh, they just put up a new building. And that's blocking the light. But it can get you pretty close to the right margin. One of the things I will talk about when I talk about shooting sunrises and sunsets is doing your research. And so there are some good apps out there. I don't know them, but they're pretty easily found at the app stores. And you should know, you know, whereabouts is the sun gonna come up, how fast does it travel across the sky and so forth if you are getting into that. And so, they are out there. They aren't totally necessary but many photographers have used them to great advantage.