Understanding Photography lighting conditions
Photography lighting conditions can make or break photography. Most photographs, especially for beginners, are taken under existing natural lighting conditions. This term means natural or artificial lighting as it exists around your subject at the time, rather than flash, lamps, or other studio lighting, that can supply a fully controlled lighting set-up.
Normally, we regard the light around us simply as illumination – something taken for granted. But in addition to allowing the basic ability to see, it can be a tool for communicating strong emotional, subjective responses too. The truth is, the lighting around the subject is often more important then the subject itself.
Most of us have experienced how the appearance of something is transformed under different weather conditions or at different points through day, because of alterations in the direction, color, quality (e.g. overcast or sunshine) and contrast-producing effect from the photography lighting. You might not always have the ability to fully control these existing light conditions, but excellent pictures often derive from you recognizing the best time of day and camera position, choices which greatly influence the complete mood of a picture.
Photography lighting quality and direction
The quality of photography lighting is often defined with terms like ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. Hardest sun light comes directly from the sun on a clear day; objects cast well-defined, hard-edged shadows that may contribute strong lines and patterns to some photography, along with stark, dramatic contrast.
The strong, contrasty light from the sun creates sharp-edged shadows. The shadows’ dark tone and graphic shape play an essential part deciding the balance and tone of the photograph.
Soft quality light is found under a totally overcast sky. Shadows are ill-defined or non-existent, so that lines and shapes with your picture are created by the shape and form of the objects themself. Pictures which are packed with varied shapes and colors might be best shot in soft, even lighting to show maximum overall information without complications of shadow. Even with a clear, sunlit day you are able to still find soft lighting by positioning your subject totally in shadow – for example, in the shade of a big building, where it only receives light scattered from sky alone. Be aware that the color balance will show a blue cast, however, unless carefully corrected through editing software or when printing.
The hazy lighting produced by light clouds provides a soft, yet directional, light. Highlights and shadows are clearly present around, but they are less strong and distinct as they would be in the same location under in midday lighting. Intermediate lighting conditions such as this are wonderful for most photographic subjects, and are especially suited to flattering portraits.
Photography lighting through the day
Each day, sunshine moves its position around the sky; the colour of the light reaching us also changes. With the results of weather and also other atmospheric conditions like haze or smoke, the photography lighting can change quickly and noticeably. When possible, stick around to be sure you have caught the best lighting.
Photography later in the day is usually very rewarding because, as daylight fades, the scene’s appearance changes minute by minute. It’s essential to shoot landscape pictures in this brief period when you have enough daylight in the sky to still define the horizon, yet most of the buildings have switched on their lighting. A firmly mounted camera with automatic exposure measurement may change settings as daylight dims.
Often, the main difference between taking an okay picture and one that perfectly suits the scene is the time of day that the photograph is captured. City night scenes are often taken just at dusk when the landscape is lit by the city lights and also the remaining daylight.
Photography lighting direction
Along with defining shape well, side lighting also creates strong texture. However, you should be mindful when photographing very contrasty pictures. You should expose accurately because even a slight error either ‘burns out’ the lightest detail or turns wanted shadow detail impenetrably dark. Beware too of shadows being cast by one subject onto another, as this may give confusing results.
Mixed lighting conditions
Pictures lit with, or containing, a variety of light sources – daylight, domestic lamps, fluorescent tubes, street lighting, etc. – will not likely photograph well in color. Most color films can be accurate only in one lighting condition. Many digital cameras offer an auto white balance setting that interactively adjusts the capture to accommodate the sunlight source. Alternatively, some models allow the user to change the setting to match specific light sources including daylight, domestic lamps and fluorescent tubes. As soon as your photographic camera is set on the daylight white balance setting, it is going to create pictures with similar color to prospects captured on daylight balanced film.
When you see a scene with multiple lighting conditions with you eye, your mind compensates. Unfortunately, the mix of colors are exaggerated when photographed. For example, it is a mistake to shoot a portrait lit with both the pink light of dusk, and also studio lighting. Skin rendered pink by one and yellow by the other looks odd and unflattering. Stick to using a photograpahy lighting source that the film or camera ‘white balance’ setting is equipped for.
Photography lighting problems also occur when shooting people, food, flowers and similar ‘color-sensitive’ subjects in surroundings with strongly tinted lighting. The greenery of sunlit grass and foliage in a enclosed garden or woods may make this happen, or it might be a strongly colored wall or vehicle – particularly with subject close-ups.