In this guide we will look at light. Light is the essential material of photography and learning how to make the best of the light conditions is a must for those looking to take their pictures to the next level.
Your camera is constantly analysing the amount of light in a scene. You can see this for yourself: half press the shutter - you will notice how the Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO vary depending on how much light is present (look at the numbers in the viewfinder). The combination of these settings produce a picture that has acceptable brightness, we call this “exposure “.
Take a look at these three images; typically we would call the top image “underexposed”, the middle image “correctly exposed” and the image above “overexposed”. But this doesn’t mean the middle image is best, you can adjust exposure based on your own creative decision.
In Auto mode your camera calculates an exposure for you, however it might not always be how you intended to capture the scene. For example photographing a child by candlelight might come out too light or photographing a person in front of a window too dark. Learning to influence exposure, i.e. making your picture lighter or darker, is a great way to further improve your pictures.
Now we know how to control exposure let’s look at light itself in a little more detail. Despite all our daylight coming from a single source the sun’s light varies enormously depending on: time of day, location, and weather conditions. These factors impact the quality of light and will have a huge influence on how your images look.
Early morning and late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky produces orange/warm tones and enriches natural colour. These light conditions are ideal for outdoor photography and produce far more pleasing images than those taken at midday in summer; when the light is white in colour and colours are washed out and lack detail.
See the difference waiting for the sun to come out made on the top image. By comparison the image above looks flat with washed out colours.
Shadow definition, length and direction also have a big influence on images shot in daylight. Direct sunlight produces clearly defined dark shadows whereas skies with cloud produce soft and dispersed shadows. Portrait photographers traditionally love this soft diffused light as it produces flattering soft shadows.
This portrait was shot in direct sunlight, except it was taken a few minutes before sunset and the light was very diffused through a thin layer of cloud. There is little better light for taking portraits and is hugely flattering, producing warm rich skin tones and soft shadows.
Our shooting angle also influences the look of our images. Try-shooting portraits into (but not directly at) the sun or landscapes 90 degrees to the sun’s rays. Varying the shooting angle will send different exposure information to your camera. Use your exposure compensation to further influence these shots.
For example, when shooting towards the sun try increasing the exposure to give more light to your foreground subject. At sunset try decreasing the exposure to produce even more rich warm tones in your images. Try a few exposure options; you can always delete the ones you aren’t happy with.
We’ve touched on light colour or temperature and have seen how sunlight at the end of the day is orange/warm compared to the bluish/cold light we see at midday. Your camera is very good at recognising these colour temperatures and has a system to balance different colour variations, called white balance.
By default your camera is set to “auto white balance” (AWB) and it does an excellent job of handling wide colour temperature fluctuations. Try changing the white balance setting to one of the pre-sets - daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten or fluorescent, see how that influences your image. It might be that you prefer one of these settings, if so, don’t forget to switch it back to auto when you change location.
White balance is a very useful tool when shooting indoors where colour temperatures can vary wildly and confuse your camera. You may have experienced this with overly orange images when shooting indoors (set your camera to “Tungsten” if you experience this).
This shot makes the most of the overcast conditions, including texture and detail and minimising the amount of sky in the image. It was also shot in raw and a Fluorescent white balance applied giving it a cool shade of blue.
If you shoot “RAW” you can open the image in Digital Photo Professional and try out any of the white balance settings as you look at it on your computer. (see Shooting RAW)
Hopefully this and all the guides in this series have given you a good start to improving your pictures. You should have seen that despite owning a very versatile and capable camera having just a little knowledge can really go a long way to improving your photographic expertise. Of course there is a lot to learn, but the best way is to get out there and try the techniques described in these guides. The more you use them the more they will become second nature and before long you will be adopting them without thinking and be well on your way to taking great pictures.
Explore the basics of DSLR photography and get to know your camera better.
The term “stop” is used to represent a relative change in the amount of light. An increase of 1 stop actually doubles the amount of light, a further stop increase, doubles it again. You can adjust by up to 3 + or - stops via exposure compensation. If you want greater exposure control you will need to switch to Manual mode.
RAW is a file format that does not compress the digital image like the standard jpeg format. As a result the images are very large in file size.
To process a raw file you will need software such as Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) which is included on the software CD supplied with your camera.
Don’t forget to share your best examples of using your camera on Canon's dedicated Facebook page. This time try shooting the same scene at different times of day and see how the different levels of light affect the photo. Upload the one with your favourite time of day with #MyNewCanon #CanonUsingLight.