There’s no real mystery about light. Basically, light from the sun or a lamp appears to be “white”. However, if it’s passed through a prism, all colours are revealed in just the same way that water droplets in the atmosphere separate light from the sun into a rainbow.
Things have an individual colour because when white light strikes them e.g. a leaf, it only reflects the green wavelength of light and absorbs the others; a white flower on the other hand appears white because it reflects most of the wavelengths that strike it.
But as most people will have noticed, light changes during the day and “Daylight” in photography terms refers to light from the sun between 10 am and 2 pm; during which time colours appear to be clear and bright.
Before and after photographic “Daylight”, light from the sun is modified because the extra distance it travels through the Earth’s atmosphere, creates a reddish cast, often called the “Golden Hour” because the colours in the sky are at their richest. But professional photographers can’t sit there doing nothing for four hours, so it’s important to learn to utilise the lighting conditions during “Daylight” hours.
So a few hints about shooting at different times of day and taking advantage of the weather…
DUSK AND DAWN: has the advantage that if underexposed slightly, the colours become richer and darker. But watch the sky change, because sometimes when the sun sinks below the horizon, clouds often light up dramatically; on some occasions the light is reflected to other clouds resulting in a kaleidoscope of colour. Every sunrise and sunset is unique – so it’s not true that “if you’ve seen one sunrise or sunset, you’ve seen them all.” However, it’s rare that a sunset on it’s own makes a good picture.
It usually needs some additional elements. People, trees, buildings etc in silhouette can enhance the image dramatically. No detail is required in the subject so just expose for the sky, and the result can be graphic and colourful. One final note about dusk, don’t forget to turn away from the setting sun and take advantage of the sensuous golden light. It’s amazing how often what’s happening behind is ignored because of the Son et Lumière of the sunset.
DAYLIGHT: Although the “Golden Hour” tend to offer more interesting light, there’s a long gap on either side of noon. Shooting into the sun, usually leads to disappointment, because colours tend to become faded and unsaturated, but it might work if it’s softened and partly obscured by a mist or haze. For the best results use the oldest technique in the book and shoot with sun behind you. Colours become vibrant and saturated. For example shoot in a garden, and the blue skies, bright green grass, yellow/red flowers will “pop”.
But a word of advice, while the sun is great for overall garden views, it’s not always helpful for closeups of flowers; this because the sunlight tends to reflect off individual flower petals, diluting the intensity of the colour. The answer is to shoot under diffuse light in shade or on a cloudy day.
RAINBOWS: also make good pictures, but like sunsets are best photographed in conjunction with interesting features. Weather experience will indicate when and where they are likely to occur. It just remains to be in the right spot at the right time and keep the old fingers crossed!
AND FINALLY, A WORD ABOUT PORTRAITS: We’ve all seen how when shot in direct sunlight, every wrinkle and line shows on the faces of older people – and a few younger ones . So wait for a cloudy day, or move into the shade where the diffused light bounces onto the subject from several directions. Textures are softened because shadow edges are indistinct and colours tend to be softer than in direct light. So be kind to folk of a certain age…!
In conclusion, light is one elements of a scene that you can alter, play with, and control, purely by deciding when you go out shooting.
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