Understanding Light

February 16, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

First off, I would like to apologize to those of you that are following my blog for the delay in posting this. The past couple of weeks have been crazy busy for me (which is a good thing in this industry). I will try to keep on track with more blog posts at regular intervals.

 

 

A Simple Understanding of Light

There is nothing more important, when it comes to photography, than light. Posing, composition, backgrounds, lenses and cameras don't mean a thing without light. I will talk about a few areas in regards to light in this post. In future blogs I will talk about some of these areas in greater detail. For now, this is just an overview of Light.

First off, even though light generally appears white, it actually has a color. Some light has a bluish color, some a yellow tinge and then there is the in between. The color of light is also known as temperature. Have you ever shot a photo under fluorescent light only to have your photo turn up with a yellow tinge? Or, have you ever noticed that the incandescent light bulbs in your house make things look more yellow? That is because they both have a 'warm' temperature. So, when you are taking photos you need to account for the color of that light either prior to shooting the photo or in your post processing. 

Hard light and soft light are next. Hard light is light that casts a strong crisp shadow. For example, on a bright sunny day you have a definitive shadow cast along the ground or objects near you. Soft light is light that doesn't produce much of a shadow. Much like light on a cloudy day when you have virtually no shadow. Some sort of diffusion is needed in most cases to transform hard light into soft light. Softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors etc all diffuse light. That means, they scatter the light. 

The distance the light source is from the subject has an effect on the hardness of the light as well. The closer the light source is to the subject, the softer the light in many cases. Move the light away and the light becomes harder. If you are using a softbox and have it 2 feet from your subject it will produce much softer light than if you move the same softbox to a distance of 12 feet from your subject. That is because when the softbox is closer to your subject it is larger in comparison to when it is far away from your subject. The larger the light source, the softer the light. The smaller the light source, the harder the light.  

Bouncing light is a great way to diffuse light and make it softer. If you are in a room with a white ceiling and your flash is on camera, point the flash at a bit of an angle so it will bounce off the ceiling and onto your subject. The ceiling will act as a diffuser and it will spread the light out resulting in fewer harsh shadows on your subject. When bouncing light off of surfaces to diffuse it, you have to watch for color cast. Color cast is when the light is reflected off of a colored surface and the light picks up a tint of that color.

Another thing to consider when you are using light is the amount of fall off. What is fall off? Fall off is the lowering of intensity of light over a distance. It is similar to shooting a shotgun. When the gun fires, the pellets exit the barrel in a tightly packed cluster. As they travel through the air, the space between each pellet increases and the cluster becomes more broad. So, the farther away from the gun/light source the more spread out the pellets/light falling on the desired surface is. So, the farther from your light source, the less light there is to light your subject. This phenomenon is called the inverse square law - The intensity of light varies inversely with the square of the distance of the source. In essence, if you want your subject brighter (without changing the amount of power used or changing the shutter speed, iso or aperture), move the light closer to the subject. 


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