How To Take A Photograph

In good photography, lighting is everything. Here's some advice to make your pictures stand out from the crowd.

Good photographers make taking pictures appear so easy. Whether a silhouette of a bare tree against a background of snow, or the Grand Canyon bathed in yellow hues of sunset, it's light which makes the difference.

Extraordinary light is what makes award-winning photographs possible. But, how often do you stop to think about what "extraordinary" light really is? Photography has been called "painting with light" yet many confuse painting with light to mean painting with sun.

One key to seeing and using light creatively is understanding a bit about it. Factors such as it's color, direction, quality and how light reacts with film are all significant. An important question when preparing to shoot a photo is "does the existing light enhance or detract from the subject?" It's tricky to see beyond the primary subject, especially when a great subject presents itself.

Most seasoned photographers suggest taking pictures either early or late in the day. Or put another way, avoid snapping photos between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Why is this, and where do there rules come from? What if you're traveling and have no choice?

Here's some advice on light and how it works in photography.


In the early hours, before the sun rises, the world is black and white. There are no shadows, except those made by artificial lighting. Colors are vague and intensify as the sun comes up. The low-lying sun must penetrate through a great deal of atmosphere which causes

light to be "warmer" in color than at midday, for example. The skies can contain hues of crimson, lavender and orange. Shadows appear bluer for the first 30 minutes after sunrise.

Because of it's very short duration, to take advantage of this unique light, you should have your camera set up before the sunrise. However, this little extra effort can produce dramatic landscapes and images. As the sun moves higher in the sky, we see a greater contrast

between the colors and shadows become blacker. The noon sun gives off white light, and colors appear purer, especially in the summer. Adversely, this has the effect of making light more harsh.

Dropping lower in the sky toward evening, the sun gives off light which begins to warm up again. On clear days before the sun sets we again experience this warmer light or "golden hour." This light appears to have magical qualities as it brings out textures which add special dimension to the subject.


The mood of a scene can also be changed by the quality of light. Hard, soft, contrasted, and diffused are common terms. The strong light at midday can diminish a fabulous landscape because of the harsh shadows. On the other hand it can work well in tighter compositions with

interesting patterns and textures, as with the abstracts and graphics of architectural details.

Clouds can act as diffusers between the sun and earth, softening and spreading the light. The soft light of a misty morning brings subtle colors to life and makes strong colors more tranquil, reducing contrast and softening shadows. This type of light is preferred for portraits and many scenics, particularly wildflower and garden images.


The direction where light comes from also affects the scene. Generally, side-lighting adds drama to your subject and brings out its pattern and texture. Shadows become more apparent and the subject gains added dimension.

Backlighting comes from behind the subject and towards the camera. It offers an opportunity to silhouette a scene, as with a dramatic sunset. Backlighting can be very effective when doing portraits, but it will be necessary to take your meter reading close-in off the person's face or use some fill flash to fill in the shadows. Also check to make sure the sun is not flaring into the lens...unless you want it to!

In frontlighting, the light strikes the subject directly, coming from behind the photographer. Though commonly used, frontlighting tends to flatten the scene, casting shadows behind the subject and reducing texture and form.

In conclusion, light is the key to the way we "see" a subject. For better or worse, it's changing every moment. You need to pay attention to it's subtle changes to discover the enormous possibilities of photography. Learning how to use light to your best advance will

take time and experimentation. Be patient with the changing light and you'll be rewarded and your photos go from ordinary to extraordinary.

Here are three things which might be helpful. Take a walk and look only for light and shadow. Try to completely ignore the concept of "subject." Second, take the same photo at sunrise, midday and sunset, study the lighting variations. Finally, keep records on the time of

day you shoot. If a particular photo turns out well, check your records for the time of day. Keep the notes for later reference.

© High Speed Ventures 2011