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Friday, August 24, 2012

Photography: Light 101

(insert music to Star-trek here... you know like "SPACE"... du du duhh... ok so maybe I let out to much of my inner geek.)
This is where creative meets science. There is so much technical information I could share about light... this will most likely be a subject that I will break up into several posts over time. However, I was asked to share some tips on photographing with natural light, and when all you have is house lighting... and well in order to really help someone with those... you have to understand not all light is created equal. Every light source has a different quality that will effect your photographs if you don't understand it and know how to adjust for it.

This image is from http://freelance-photography.knoji.com/photographing-the-holiday-lightspart-2

So here is your science lesson today: without recreating the wheel - if you remember back in school when light his a crystal it separates out its colors... light has different color qualities. Those colors are based on the "Kelvin temperature" of the light. Now from the chart above you can kind of see the reasoning behind when you shoot in the shade (without adjustments/smart WB) you tend to get images that look blue, when you shoot at sunset your images are warmer, yellows and orange due to the color temperature of your light source.

This back in the day of film, this was a big deal... lots of time went into metering, working with reflectors, flashes, and the printing to get whites to be white under different lighting conditions. When digital was released manufactures spent time developing WB (White Balance) to adjust for these color shifts and to tell your camera... I know you see X color of light... but I want you to see it as white light so my photo will be beautiful, whites are whites and all the other colors magically fall into place!

Ok.. so you understand all light is different... Here is the best tip for adjusting it on your camera without flash so you can work in "natural" or with "house" lights if that is all you have available.

WB: White Balance every digital camera has some control to adjust WB. In most cases allowing your camera to remain on "auto" works great. If you are noticing your shooting in a lighting condition where your white is not white there are many ways to adjust for this. (you can check this by shooting a white object) Dig out your manual (great for reference, remember) and find the combination of menu options that gets you into the WB menu for YOUR camera - you will find presets for most of the scenarios shown on the chart above and adjust for your lighting condition! I highly recommend if you don't have your manual you carry a pocket card in your camera case!
Pocket Reference Card I have pinned on my Pinterest board for you if you need it.

If the auto WB doesn't do the trick, chances are good that one of the presets will fix any white issues you encounter. Just remember in digital you just want your whites to be white and the other colors will fall into place!

Now... there lots of ways you can "modify" light if you need to add light for a better exposure. This is where this post becomes HUGE! So, without talking about adjustments on aperture/ shutter / lens choices / flash or adding additional light sources  etc... here are some basic modifications you can make to control your lighting options.. when you think your limited to whats on hand.

For not enough light try adding a reflector; a reflector reflects... you got it LIGHT! If you need to change your light source (or add an additional source to say get rid of a shadow or light your product from multiple areas... you can bounce light from one source (say the sun, or a directional lamp) by using a reflector. There are tons of brands, personally I have good luck with the quality and price point of the Photoflex (it helps that they hooked my on their products at an early age) Now, you don't have to use a commercial product... if you understand you will reflect what ever color of the object is your using. So if you are shooting in the shade and want to "warm" your subject reflect something yellow / gold, if your shooting in a studio with white balanced lights and just want to fill in a shadow (say under a chin) use something white - if your shooting with warm sun and need to cool it off... silver (which produces a cool light similar to blue with out the harsh effects of a blue item). These are your "go to" colors.  To use them you want something like this....

I have seen some very creative reflectors created... the easiest are foam core (white)
A small reflector I made with a piece of cardboard on the back to hold it where I need it

Or foam core wrapped with tin foil (silver). In a pinch I used my gold sun shade from my car...(more DIY reflectors)

If you have too much light - say outside with bright sun you want to reduce it. This is where you would see a light scrim, screen, umbrella, light box etc come into play. Basically you want the light to pass through something and defuse it. You want a... wait for it... Diffuser! The only trick to this is you want light to be able to pass threw it, and not change color - so you need it to be WHITE... Place the diffuser between the light source and your subject and harsh lighting will be evened out and  shadows wont be as noticeable. The best "home" solution to this is a sheer material... say oh I don't know... a white window SHEER. Yep, sometimes its that easy.

A light diffuser from one of my light boxes, because sometimes you need light to go through 2 diffusers!
You can also create your own from a very cheap shower curtain liner... like I did here for a post about DIY product studios. The light coming in the window is diffused as it passes through the liner.

Shows filtered light on right and reflector on left.

For as technical as photography can be... sometimes the solutions are very clear. When your shooting remember controlling your light makes a HUGE impact on the feel, emotion and story of your image!

I hope this gives you a basic understand and a few helpful hints on how to control your light. As always I feel you need to understand some basics and start somewhere, so as we go along I will be developing this light series more and more. If you have suggestions or situations you want me to cover as we go - please let me know!

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