Let there be light! Part I…

Let There Be Light! Part I…

Today is the start of a series of posts (they may not be in order, I am scattered sometimes) on lighting. Everything in photography revolves around light. You may not think you care about light or types of light, but I promise that if you stay with me, you will be able to use this knowledge to wow friends and take better digital pictures!  It will also be a frame of reference for the next time you hire me as your Tampa Photographer and ask why I suggest we meet early or late in the day or ask if there are some shady areas around :).  Let’s take a quick look at different kinds of light.

Specular == Spectacles == BAD
Specular light is what we generally think of as “harsh” light. It occurs in the form of direct sunlight or a bright flash pointed directly at someone or something. Some nasty side-effects to specular light are squinting and nasty shadows under people’s eyes, neither are too appealing in a portrait. Specular just means that the light has very little angle to it, it’s coming directly at the subject. When I think specular, I think about spectacles and burning, uh, leaves as a kid. You can use spectacles to channel light into a very direct source.

Diffused == Dispersed == GOOD
Diffused light is light that is coming at the subject from many different angles. It occurs in the form of (usually) something in between the light source and the subject, causing the light to break up and become less direct (or specular). What happens when someone “diffuses” the situation? They disperse the problem, or make it (seem at least) less direct, right? You get the picture (HA! Get it??), oh boy…

Big Light Source == Diffused == GOOD!
So we get to my goal for you today. There is an easy way to think about lighting when you are trying to find a spot to take your next portrait. The bigger the light source, the more diffused the light, and therefore better the quality of the light will be. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some examples:

  1. Overcast day. What happens in an overcast day? Instead of the sun shining directly at the Earth, there is a layer of clouds diffusing the sun, thus creating a bigger light source!
  2. Bounce flash. When you bounce the flash off of the ceiling or a wall, you are transforming the light source from those few inches of flash to an entire wall or ceiling, thus creating more diffused light!
  3. Umbrellas and soft boxes in the studio. The last time you went to Wally World (you should really hire a professional Tampa photographer), did the photographer have the flash pointed directly at your kid? No, they bounced it off of an umbrella or shot the flash through a soft box. Both of those techniques create a bigger light source and thus softer, more diffused light.

So What Do I Do With This Knowledge?
First of all, the ability to create a bigger light source is one of the reasons why you really need an external flash for indoor photography. The ability to bounce the light off of other surfaces is key to create diffused and more pleasing light. If you are shooting photos outdoors and it’s overcast, no worries, you have a great big, diffused light source, fill up that memory card! But if you are out on one of those beautiful, cloudless days, you need to be concerned with the sun. Find a nice shady spot to take those photos. Make sure you set your DSLR settings to use spot or center-weighted metering to ensure that the bright background doesn’t cause your subject to be too dark!

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