Tricks of the light

Light, is a funny thing.  There are whole religions devoted to it and scientists aren’t even 100% sure how it works. Is it a wave? Is it a particle? Is it both?

Its been studied by artists for hundreds of years, they helped discover and capture some of its weirdest characteristics. I remember when my high school art teacher Mr Smith informed us that shadows aren’t black and are actually the opposite shade of the light being cast. My world fell apart… No it didn’t really but I was genuinely shocked. As well as telling us air had a colour (school was amazing…) he explained that Artists like Monet created studies of light, famously spending months studying its effect on all types of subjects, the most famous being the Haystacks.

Monet showed us things like how when light hits objects it is often partially split releasing stray wavelengths, how shadows are cast and just how much colour actually resides in a beam of sunlight. Then he used the dappled colour strokes of Impressionism as the perfect style and medium to show it.

Ok so lesson over.

Yesterday I went to Cove Bay to photograph the beach and the dogs, and I came away disappointed because of the overcast weather. I hate overcast weather, its non-weather. Even a storm is better than just grey clouds obscuring the world. I’ve found that my favourite light for taking pictures is in sunlight, and if you get a clear winters days with barely any clouds like today, you’re in for a treat. The sun doesn’t arc high enough to create a strong white light, so instead you get a yellow-gold wash of sunlight that smothers everything and lovely long shadows. So what’s next, I’ve got the sunlight, how about an environment where that golden sunlight is broken up, that should create some interesting shots.

And it does. We went to the woods today and the dogs barrelled around after each other like nutbags, and i took ma camera and a 50mm lens, plus my telephoto just in case. This one shot of Oscar got me thinking about light in relation to photography and how it can transform a scene or subject, especially after the disappointing light from the previous days shooting. These two images were taken with the same camera with the settings below:

Oscar in Sunlight:

[2.0f 1/1000 ISO-200 @ 50mm]

Lily in Flat Light:

[4.5f 1/200 ISO-1600 @ 95mm]

The way the subjects are captures is completely different. Oscar looks as majestic as Endymion in the painting “Endymion Asleep” by Trioson which is hilarious because he’s a dog, and all he cared about was the ball I had in my hand. In the picture below Lily, on the other hand, is more a part of the image, she not so much a subject as a fleeting part of scenery given legs. The picture of Oscar in the woods also had some atmospheric mist floating in which was lit up by the ray of light cutting straight through on the diagonal, creating a really interesting composition. Then there’s Oscar himself who is brightly lit on one side and very dark on the other (which are rules I use when rendering in 3D, bright light and heavy darks create much more dramatic shots) but taking shots on a day like this was hard, because the the light was shining so bright in some area’s and equally as dark in others which throws out the camera which is one, or the other. The high contrast meant that some pictures were over-exposed and some under, add in trying to coax the dogs into slithers of light positioned just so in a pathless section of wood and we had our own dramatic day.

Flat Light is every photographers friend, as it creates a constant and, as the name suggests, flat blanket of light. Shadows are gone and colours are even, which is desirable for some types of shot. But on the negative side you lose the immediate sense of drama you get in direct sunlight and its harder to gauge depth on a shot where everything is consistent. Safe, but boring. But you can get some nice results. The images I took looked utterly rubbish on the camera screen, but I got them home and they’re actually pretty good. However, I still feel sunlight is better for those wanting a bit of drama and danger in their lives because it creates more interesting shots, cooler compositions and is way more inspiring.

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