Photography: Properties of Light

Photography means “drawing with light”. Without light, you cannot take a photo. So its very easy to forget – when youre looking at the camera, that you need to spend time to study your light. As others say – “Find your Light”

Light has four main properties. And you need to understand them so you can take great photos. They are – Intensity, Colour, Direction and Quality

Intensity of Light

The brighter the light, the easier it is to take photos. The light’s intensity – or how strong or weak the light is– is a factor when taking photos. The bright outdoors , especially in the mid afternoon is an intense light – or strong light. And this will allow you to turn down the ISO – as low as ISO 100 and even take photos of moving objects.


The reverse is true after the sun goes out – or the intensity of light is low/weak – you need to adjust either the ISO, aperture and/or shutter speed to compensate for the loss of light. In most cases, you adjust the shutter spped and use a tripod. or being Aperture driven – use a lens that can have a wide aperture – f2.8 , f1.8 or f1.4 (thats the more expensive lenses) Cranking up the ISO is the last resort usually because you will introduce digital noise.

Dont be afraid to use your camera just because the sun is down or you are in a situation where light is scarce. Artificial lighting can be exciting and you those effects are not visible in daytime. All you need is a tripod or crank up the ISO – at least you have some photos to work on.

Light has Color

landscapeOur eyes sees more color than the camera. and to see color, you need light. Indoors , fluorescent lighting emits greenish tinge/color. inside a hotel, here are more yellow lights Рthus a yellowish tinge on your photos. in the late afternoon, when the sun is almost out, there is a bluish color on your photos.

This is the primary reason why we need to adjust for white balance (WB) or color balance. Different situations have different color settings.

To set your camera so that it doesnt change color – set the white balance to daylight. In most cases this is the one with the sun icon.

Direction of Light

bokeh2There are primarily four directions that light can be seen. Frontal, Top, Side and Back lighting. You can combine 2 or more and the angle cam mixed and matched to your liking. This combination is endless.

Are more lights desirable? It depends. More lighting can be amazing to look at but natural lighting or one light photography can be as interesting, maybe more. you have to remember that more lights have that “studio look” and Natural or one light photography is “natural” and pleasing to the eye

Use the direction of light to bring out shapes and textures. Usually you can bring the light to the side to create shapes and textures. To create sillohuettes, bring the light at the back. If you cannot move the light, move the subject.

Quality of light.

abang045I remember Joe Mcnally, when he visited Philippines in January 2013, he always talked about the quality of light. The quality of light can be hard and soft. In mid day- especially outdoors – the quality of light is hard, as you will see the shadows being hard-edged. But you can make hard lighting soft – with diffusers and reflectors.

In portraits, we usually use a soft light, especially in women (because it looks glamorous on them).

A very big-intense light, near the subject, can be made soft – using a diffuser. to bring back light into a darker area- use a reflector or bring one more light to the other side.

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