Fiat Lux – Let there be light. Photography and Light

Following on from my disclaimer yesterday, nothing that I write below has anything to do with expensive equipment, or travel to exotic locations. Every photographer, whether cash-strapped or a lottery winner needs to know how to use light. The very word ‘photography’ means drawing with light: no light = no photo.

Light: directly from the Sun and sky and indirectly bounced back from the sculpture, the sea and the sand

The light we use can be direct – as from the sun or a flashlight, ambient – such as through a window, or reflected – as from the moon or bounced off something – such as a mirror.

To use light in a photograph, it has to be allowed into the camera through a shutter, focused by a lens and stored on a film or electronic sensor. For the light to be useful it has to be controlled. Once the lens has been adjusted to focus the light precisely, the shutter mechanism has to be set to limit the size of its opening (its aperture) and the amount of time that it will be held open (its shutter speed).

Different lenses for different used of light and focal length

If too much light is allowed in, the photo will be over-exposed, if there isn’t enough light, it will be under-exposed. There is one final element within the control of the photographer for a particular image and that is the sensitivity of the sensor. This is the ISO setting. In low light conditions. By increasing the ISO you can continue to take photos even when it’s quite dark, but this comes at the cost of increased graininess (or noise).

Too much light caused by solar flare

We haven’t finished with light yet.  You, as a photographer, have a role to play and this is what separates photography from snapshots. A photograph is to a snapshot as carpentry is to flat pack furniture assembly. There are exceptions. A photographer may need to take a snapshot in order to capture a fleeting opportunity. At such moments the prime objective is to get the shot. There may not be time to erect a tripod, to attach filters or even to check settings. It can be now or never, but the photographer has had to recognise the opportunity.

I arrived just at this moment, saw the light rays, dropped my bag and tripod on the beach, grabbed my camera, pointed and clicked the shutter. Two minutes later would have been too late. I hadn’t checked my settings or whether the lens was clean. Luckily they were okay. Opportunity is sometimes everything.

Normally though, with a snapshot, the camera does the photography – not the person who merely points and clicks. Photography requires judgement of the objective. More on that in another post. The photographer recognises the constraints set by light including the time of year, the time of day, the movement of the Sun, Moon and tides, the range of the tones of light given in the scene, the ‘temperature’ of the light available, and the use of shadows and reflections.

This an example of the wrong colour temperature. The previous evening I’d been taking photographs indoors under tungsten lighting.

The following morning, at Pwllheli, I forgot to check my white balance setting to change the setting from tungsten to daylight. Ooops!

I’ll try to shine more light on all of these are topics, and illustrate them by some of my own photos, in the blogs to come.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about Time.

My featured image today is, of course, the London Eye, from the Embankment, with lots of light, colours and reflections. To take the shot I used my Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera, using a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 29 mm and f/8. The ISO was 100 and the shutter time 30 seconds. The shot was tripod mounted without filters.

Author: writingandphotography0531

I am a retired local government officer. At that time, I was an IT manager and had associated responsibilities for training. I have previously been involved, in various organisations, with aspects of industrial training and management development. My hobby is photography and, until recently, hillwalking in Snowdonia. I have just written my first novel, Persephone and the Photographer, published as a Kindle eBook.

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