Photography Lighting Tips
My wife and I were stopping at one of our local pumpkin patches to pick up pumpkins to carve for Halloween. For some families this is a casual affair. My wife, however, is a serious connoisseur of pumpkins and is driven to inspect at least half of the harvest in each field. This leaves me plenty of time to create images. If possible, I try to delay our arrival until late afternoon. The low angle of the sun produces warm light that accentuates the orange and yellow tones of my subjects. Backlighting is perfect for that scarecrow in the corn field and positioning the camera low to the ground near some perfect pumpkins accentuates my subjects while a shallow depth of field allows me to soften people and cornstalks in the background. Some displays of gourds and squash are situated in the shade, so I switch my white balance to open shade in order to get back all the warm tones we associate with the fall season. As the farm stand closes for the day, my wife loads our truck with half a dozen pumpkins for carving and several kinds of squash for cooking. My harvest arrives a little later as I download these fun images to my computer for final output.
Take advantage of natural light. Natural lighting is soft, it creates dramatic and intimate settings. Force your camera’s flash off, and use a tripod or other stable surface to avoid camera shake. Use the ‘rule of thirds’ to create a more intriguing composition. Mentally (some cameras offer a display setting for this) divide the picture plane into thirds and place the subject in your photo at the intersection of a vertical and horizontal third.
Photograph in low light on purpose! To get the people silhouetted I exposed for the highlights on the water and opened up one f-stop; in-camera meters tend to want to expose whites as gray. Image was color tinted and vignetted to emphasize the mood of a dreamy summer day. It could be done with an orange filter on the (telephoto) lens, or in post-production in Photoshop, as was done with this image. A deep blue filter could make the image have a terrific moonlit feeling. Brisbane, Australia. © Chris Michaels, San Diego DPA Instructor
A photo showing how families can memorialize their Jack O′Lanterns. Make sure your background is simple and darker lighting for the right mood. It also helps to have a black cat handy to cast a shadow!
You’ve perhaps heard of the secret to good photojournalism—“f/8 and be there!” Well, the secret of good landscape photography is not much different—“f/22 and be there!” Probably the most important ingredient in a landscape photo is light. So be there when the light is right. For me that begins about 20 minutes before the sun comes up. In the summer that means getting up at 4:00 AM or earlier, driving 20 miles to Orlando Wetlands Park, and walking about a mile to my favorite sunrise spot. That brings up another ingredient—frequency. I took a tip from Ansel Adams many years ago. Have a favorite spot that you can call your own and be there often. If you have a favorite spot, don’t let the sun come up before you get there. The sun comes up every morning—so you really can’t call a great landscape “a lucky shot.” While good landscapes can be made at other times of day, the sunrise and sunset times of day give us the warm oblique light that enhances most subjects—whether or not the sun itself is in the picture. There are two reasons why I like sunrises better that sunsets. First, you have the solitude of a beautiful environment. No one else is crazy enough to get up at that hour, and this all belongs to you and the wildlife that you share it with. The other reason is—you don’t have to go home in the dark! Years ago I would carry a heavy 4x5 view camera and at least 20 sheets of Velvia-50 film, a heavy tripod, a camera bag/backpack, and lunch. Life is easier now. I still carry a large tripod—but it is carbon-fiber and a lot lighter. My digital camera equipment is a fraction of the weight of the view camera equipment. Lunch weighs about the same. Each semester, I bring my nature photography classes on 2 field trips to either Orlando Wetlands or Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I get some grumbling when they hear of the arrival hour, but the grumbling goes away when the sun comes up. One woman, who had just turned 40, told me she had never gotten up that early in her life. She showed up. She announced to the class of about 7 people that this was the first time in her life she saw a sunrise. I had a new convert.
I rarely spend sunset shooting the setting sun. Usually, I am facing the other way photographing whatever subject is being lit by that warm evening light. This placid lake in the high Sierra Nevada Mountain of California was a perfect location for this technique. © Chuck Place, Los Angeles DPA Instructor
High desert was shot off of old Highway 8 on the California Mexico border. This rock is about 2 hours east of San Diego and visible from highway 8. Lots of interesting rock formations in all high desert areas. I shot this in the spring because of the strong sunset light bouncing off of large cumulus clouds behind me to the west. The desert air is very clear through April and May and on cold evenings the moon is quite bright. Of course there are many interesting images to be shot after the early spring showers when the desert blooms. High Desert Moon Rise: © 2007 Ken DeJarlais, Seattle DPA Instructor
One of the great spring and summer events that always make dramatic pictures are the storms that pop up during the evening hours. With digital cameras and a tripod one can set out and photograph a lightning storm after it has passed by. As for the technical data i have my cameras set to record in RAW mode. This allows me to get the most detail and fine tune the image for best quality once i return to the studio. I live in a city where there is a fair amount of ambient light at night so this allows me to keep my ISO, or the cameras sensitivity to light, at around ISO 100 with a F-Stop (aperture) of f5.6 and a shutter speed of around 5 seconds. Then it all comes down to patience, luck, and persistence. I keep shooting until I get a good lightning bolt during one of my exposures, the nice thing with digital is you can shoot a lot without fear of running out of film. You can also adjust your exposure by checking the screen. © 2007 Darren Hauck, Chicago DPA Instructor
Sometimes breaking the rules can yield dramatic images. In this case, I chose an angle that provided extreme back-lighting of the subject. Central Park, NYC © 2007 Douglas Carver, New York DPA Instructor
You need not go to Washington D.C. or Kyoto, Japan in order to catch all the world′s cherry blossoms. Every spring the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in New York City hosts its′ own cherry blossom festival. In this case I photographed directly into the sun to create this backlit image. For this type of image it is recommended to shoot your picture with the camera in manual mode to compensate for the bright sun in the image which can fool your meter and result in severe underexposure. If you prefer you can also use the exposure compensation feature on your camera. In this case set it to +3 to get the proper exposure on your backlit subject. © 2007 Andre Costantini, New York DPA Instructor