In this post, I want to talk about seeing one thing, light! Like it or not, photography is about light more than anything else. If you doubt that, try taking a picture in a totally dark room, what do you get…total black aka nothing. I’m going to touch on a number of aspects of light. Each of these topics can cover volumes, so if anything I mention piques your curiosity, please do your own follow up research.
The first thing to understand about light is that our eyes are much better at perceiving and interpreting it than any of our cameras. Yes the cameras are getting better, but they still have a long way to go. To use a little techno speech, our eyes are analog devices, that is they see light along a continuous spectrum that we think of as visible light. Our digital cameras need to break colors down into numbers. The camera has three color sensors. Each pixel registers a certain amount of red, blue and green. Each of these is translated into a number from 0 to 255. (Yes I know 16 bit goes up to 65,000) When all three have a value of zero you get white, when they are all 255 you get black. When all three have the same value other than 0 or 255, you get shades of gray. It is the blending of the three values that produce all the colors your camera captures.
What’s your angle: Where is your light source? For simplicity, let’s consider just the free one, the sun. The angle of the sun to the horizon is hugely important. There are photographers who will only shoot outdoors when the sun is close to the horizon. The hour or so before the sun rises and after it sets are known as blue light. The hour starting when the sun rises and ending when it sets are golden light. These produce some incredible images, strictly because the angle of the light interacts with elements in the atmosphere to create these wonderful colors. The following image is an example of golden light at sunset.
You can see all the beautiful colors in the sky which make shooting in this light so special. Notice, that without filters or blending exposures, the capture of the great light in the sky causes most of the rest of the image to be under exposed! You can’t see much detail on the couple on the beach, but in this case, I don’t think you need to. The message or sentiment is clearly there.
The opposite of this light is the bright of day. Whether shooting around noon when the sun is pretty much overhead or earlier/later with the sun in full view creates some very different light. In this light, it is easy for colors to wash out and the image to be high contrast. The farther from noon one gets in this light, the more you start to see shadows. Shooting in this light can be tricky. You need to understand what it is you are likely to get and work accordingly. Shots in this light often convert well to black and white.
Following are two versions of the same shot. It was taken mid afternoon on a clear bright day. I had to do a bunch of post processing to offset the bright sunshine. Interestingly, there’s been some discussion among my colleagues and friends as to whether the shot works better with or without the three people walking in the surf.
Here’s the same shot converted into Black and White. To me, while I know that these two are the same shot, they strike me as two completely different images conveying different messages and meanings.
Well, I’ve once again gone on and on. There’s still plenty to talk about on the subject of light and a few other things about seeing like the camera. I may start interspersing these with some other topics in the weeks ahead. As always, I’d love to get your comments and feedback on this or any of my postings.