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Monday, March 25, 2013

Shooting with Natural Light

Understanding Light vs. Time of Day, is a KEY factor in your photography success.

Lets start by understanding how light works. For the photographer who is shooting next to a window with available light, or even taking products outside time of day becomes OVERWHELMINGLY important. Just like when your doing portraits, the color temperature of your available light, namely the sun, is dictated by time of day. When asked recently "Is it better to use available light or natural light" I very quickly answered... it DEPENDS! A lot of natural light, isn't very "good" for shooting... say late at night or during a thunderstorm.... but the same can be said for available light (house lights) it all depends on your camera settings and understanding how to work with what you have!

As a reminder, anytime I start talking about light... you have to remember that all light has a color temperature, if you remember that from your basic science classes, or my previous posts. (light 101)

Because of the way digital camera's work, we want to find the most "white" light possible in order to produce the most accurate colors. As you can see white, is not on this simple chart, but its closest to the 5000K-5500K temp even tho it is not shown and tends to be the closest  to "noon" time sun. Regardless you will  have to work with your camera to understand your lighting scenario and produce the best results if you are working with sunlight in most cases. This means knowing roughly the temputure or color cast your lighting situation is most likly to produce.

If you shoot like I did here about 2 hours after sunrise, with direct light coming in from a rising sun, you notice the image has a warm almost yellow cast to it, t. The background on the table and leaning on the wall should be white, and the walls a light tan not yellow.
You would get the same sort of yellow orange tone if you were to shoot at sunset, which most of you see when you take images at the park or of your own families I am sure. 

The good news is, all digital camera's have a white balance mode (WB) by learning what kind of light you are shooting in and how to set your camera to see it as "white" you will be well ahead of the curve when it comes time to shoot your images. In most cases, this is set to auto and will function very well for you. You may never need to change this! However, if you find yourself with a yellow, green, blue, or reddish tone to your images (easy to spot on white) you can typically use one of the preset modes to adjust for that sort of lighting situation. The two charts below offer you some assistance listing both the common lightning scenario as well as the icon commonly used for camera manufactures so that you can simply select the one you need to adjust your white balance.

 If it doesn't fully fix the issue , there are other options... like working  with a reflector or diffuser to adjust your light in the area. If you are shooting with light that is more blue, like in the shade, use the gold part of the reflector to direct a warm glow onto your subject. If your light is too warm (like the yellow glow from above, use the white or silver, depending on how cool you need to make it. If your sun is very harsh and casting a lot of shadows... utilize a diffuser and put that between the sun and your product to reduce the amount of light hitting your product. (FYI, I find wax paper to make a great product diffuser if you are in a pinch!)
Look for a great DIY reflector post next week!

Or, use the manual WB settings to make your own adjustments. Either by guessing or by using tools such as a expodisk or white card.


There is even a simple way to edit for WB within some new Photoshop and editing programs, such as Lightroom, if you choose to do it in post-production... which I find harder, honestly.

To figure out what additional supplies and what studio set up will work best for you, do a test shoot during the time of day that you plan to shoot.  Set up your studio the way you think it will be utilized the best and take some test images. Now, try different WB settings, make a note of what you select on which image. Then, review them on your computer, send them to friends - unedited. Remember we want to shoot correctly (or as correctly as we can) and not count on spending time adjusting in Photoshop. Which ones turned out the closest to an image you would use? Look at what adjustments will need to be made. Can you now adjust your set up to remove shadows, or add a reflector or diffuser to provide an additional light source or to filter the bright light coming in? That will be our next step in creating a functional home studio set up for you!

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