George Eastman said, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.
I’d like to echo Mr. Eastman’s thoughts. Pay attention to the light, and you will get great photographs. Whether it’s wildlife, landscape, travel, or any other kind of photography, light will always be your primary consideration. Without light, there is no photograph. Understanding the quality of light helps you make compelling pictures. There are three basic principles relating to light that you need to understand.
One of the most important things to understand about light is direction. Beginning photographers should concentrate on keeping the sun at their backs at all times. You can disregard this rule if you want to accomplish a special effect, such as a silhouette or a backlit subject. But for most standard portraits and action shots, positioning yourself with the sun at your back ensures that you will have good light on your subject. Eventually you will want to try side light and backlight.
After you have the light coming from the right direction, you’ll want to judge the quality of the light. Is it harsh or diffuse? Where is the sun in the sky? Is the sun high or low across the horizon? What color is the light? Is it the golden light of sunrise or the soft blue light of a high overcast sky? Evaluate the quality of the light before you shoot.
The third component of light is intensity. How MUCH light is there? If the light is strong, you will need less exposure to make the image. If you are shooting in low morning or evening light, you will need more exposure. This is crucial in wildlife and sports photography since you often need fast shutter speeds to capture the moving subjects.
THE BEST LIGHT
My best photographs have been made in the hour that follows sunrise or precedes sunset. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to shoot at those times. In those cases, your best bet is shooting during the right season, not the right time of day. In North America, winter offers light that you can work with most of the day. This is because the angle of the sun is low on the horizon. When the light is high in the sky, it is too harsh. Look for light that’s low – just over your shoulder – and you will get dynamic images.