Light to illuminate, shadow to shape

3
2289

Now that you are getting to know your camera, we would like to talk about light and shadow. For without those two elements, we don’t really have anything to see or shoot.

Well, “duh” you’re thinking, but hang on. Let’s dissect the phrase above.

Light to illuminate:
Of course. It is obvious, right? Sunlight, moonlight, strobe light, flashlight — light has to fall on our subject in order for us to see it. Taking a decent picture means you must evaluate and choose your light carefully.

dunescape-1
Shadows on these dunes let us see the shape of not only the main dunes but the little ripples, furrows and ridges that make up the dune field.

Shadows to shape: If you have a photo of a ball that is lit straight on, you can’t tell if it is spherical or flat because there are no visual clues. But if there is a shadow on the ball, we can see that it is indeed a sphere and not just a flat circle.

Let’s take these thoughts and put them to work making a good image.

Learning to see

Good image making is much more than just learning the technical stuff (but you need that under your belt too). It is learning to see in a different way.

Let me repeat that: To make good photos you must learn to see the world differently.

Shadows on these dunes let us see the shape of not only the main dunes but the little ripples, furrows and ridges that make up the dune field.
Shadows on these dunes let us see the shape of not only the main dunes but the little ripples, furrows and ridges that make up the dune field.

How many times have you gone on a great picturesque vacation to some place like Yosemite?

You excitedly hop out of the car and snap a shot of an azure alpine lake surrounded by craggy mountains. But when you look at the image at home it doesn’t look quite like you thought it would. Dare we say it might even look boring?

Most days, the light is not intriguing unless it is very early or very late in the day, when the shadows are the longest.

Photos taken during mid-day, with the sun overhead, fall into that “flat and uninteresting” category.

Landscape shooters know this and plan their image making accordingly.

When to pull out the camera

Shooting in the early morning and late afternoon is a good general rule. So if you drive by that lovely alpine lake at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, you can take a snapshot to show you were there.
Or, if you are trying to create a memorable image, return when the light is better and shadows have given the land contour.

Exceptions to every rule

There are times when a high overcast skies can be a boon for photographers. Forest scenes with lots of trees look best on high overcast days — just be sure not to have that bright white sky in your image. These kinds of days are also good for flower and macro photography.

Exercise #1

Leave your camera inside, step outside and take a look. Where is the source of light? What is it doing — is it shining straight down, or is it oblique?

Are there shadows on things giving them texture and dimension? Or is it about noon and it is hot or cold and nothing looks good? Perhaps the shadows are too harsh and obscure details you want to see. Try this exercise whenever you go somewhere. Educate yourself to see.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

— DOROTHEA LANGE

Intimate Landscapes

(About Close-up Photography by Lara Hartley)

Things to Do in the Desert: Photography

How to Get Photos of Wild Animals

Photo Safari at Imperial Sand Dunes

Photo-Stories by Lara Hartley

St. Andrews Abbey: A World of Wonder

Cassini Call Home: Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex

Birthday Road Trip: Route 66

Ludlow for Lunch

Intimate Landscapes

3 COMMENTS

  1. I read your artical on Ludlow and enjoyed it. I love to run around the desert and visit old towns. I resently made a trip to Death Valley and vacinity. I’m taking a photography class and like taking pictures.

  2. This is a great series on photography. You talk so clearly about what’s important. Great quotes from the masters too. I write on photography for Examiner.com and BestThinker as well as my own blog so I will point readers to your articles!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here