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Seeing and enhancing natural light

From: The Elements of Effective Photographs

Video: Seeing and enhancing natural light

Natural light comes in three ways: amazing, okay-with-potential, and awful. I'm a natural light junkie. I love it when I walk into a situation and the light is so wonderful I just start shooting. Unfortunately, that happens about 10% of the time. The rest of the time I have to enhance it or create it, and that's the first thing I determine when I walk into any situation. So let's take a look at this in action. Here we have amazing, beautiful natural light.

Seeing and enhancing natural light

Natural light comes in three ways: amazing, okay-with-potential, and awful. I'm a natural light junkie. I love it when I walk into a situation and the light is so wonderful I just start shooting. Unfortunately, that happens about 10% of the time. The rest of the time I have to enhance it or create it, and that's the first thing I determine when I walk into any situation. So let's take a look at this in action. Here we have amazing, beautiful natural light.

I love the diagonals that come down from the blinds, and I'm putting this in my okay-with-potential category. The problem is that the difference and intensity between highlight and shadow is just too great for our cameras to capture. So if I expose for the highlights then I have shadows without details; if I expose for the shadows I've blown out the highlights. Our brains interpret the scene with detail in the shadows, but our sensors can't. The good news is that I can change this without affecting the overall light message of the portrait.

The easiest way is to bring in a reflector to fill in the shadows. I want to just kiss the light right in there. So Josh, would you please bring that in please? And look what's happening on her cheek: it's just adding just a little bit more light. Now you can change it by moving it closer or bringing it further away, or changing the angle. Let me take a few shots here. Okay, so tilt your head just a little bit and a little bit of a smile.

Oh, that's nice. Thank you! Okay, see how that works? When using a reflector, remember that light bounces off a surface at the same angle that it strikes it. This knowledge will help you figure out where to put the reflector, and now you don't have to spend a lot of money on reflectors; white cardboard works just fine. We've pulled the blinds and now we have straight light coming in the window. It's very harsh. Let me take a few shots here.

Can you go ahead and tilt and look at the window? Look how harsh the shadows are and how deep the shadows are, and that separation between highlight and shadow is very sharp. But look what happens when we bring a sheer white curtain across it. See how the light is softened? The shadow is less intense and the highlight shadow edge is broader and softer. Let me take another couple of shots. Oh, I like this light.

Okay and go ahead and tilt your head. All right, and now smile, give me a smile. Oh, sweet! Thank you! See how the sheer has softened the shadows and also note the contrast between the highlight and the shadow is much softer. Now we have lace across the window, and it totally changes the whole message of the lighting in this photograph. Go ahead and look out the window this time.

Oh, that's beautiful. I really love how the lace is on her face and also on the tablecloth. It gives it a beautiful message. So get creative when you're working with light, and remember, you have three choices: leave it alone, enhance it, or create it.

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The Elements of Effective Photographs

29 video lessons · 25144 viewers

Natalie Fobes
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