What is light and how do we use it

The only real problem in photography be it stock, microstock, art or otherwise, is and always has been light.

Light is the electromagnetic radiation visible to the human eye. In classical physics the wave of electromagnetic radiation has amplitude, which is the brightness of the light, wavelength, which is the color of the light, and an angle at which it is vibrating, called polarization (reflecting windows anyone?). In quantum physics electromagnetic radiation consists of particles called photons, which are packets ("quanta") of energy which move at the speed of light. The brightness of the light is the number of photons, the color of the light is the energy contained in each photon, and four numbers (X, Y, Z and T) are the polarization.

And as weird as it may seem experiments show that both interpretations are correct.

Photographs are impressions of the electromagnetic radiation called light on an impressible medium, such as the digital sensor or the photographic emulsion. Light reflects from the surfaces that we photograph (people, objects, nature) thus giving us the colors and forms.

If we calculate the exposure of this medium as too high or too low we will have a blown out, overexposed image or a too dark image (anyone familiar with that refusal?). If the intensity of the light is too low in one part of the image and too high in another part we will also have an unusable image.

Before digital and fancy film cameras there were manual cameras were the film was drawn by hand and the exposure was at the mercy of the photographer's eye. It depended on your ability to measure the light condition and on the knowledge you had on your camera and lens to obtain a good picture.

Then came lightmeters incorporated in the photo cameras and they became better and better, then came the digital cameras and we could instantly assert if an image was well exposed or not.

How to obtain the perfect exposure? Measure with your camera in different points of the image you wish to take. If the differences are big you may wanna use a light reflector surface or a flash to fill in the darker area/areas. For microstock photography is usually better to overexpose your image by a half stop, or even a full stop, depending on the actual conditions (check Yuri Arcurs' portfolio and see why). Assert the light with your eyes, this is a good exercise for beginners and it's also a way not to forget where we started from as photographers. Use the manual mode of your camera and shoot images with different times and exposures until you achieve the perfect one. You will find this rewarding in the end.

Some tips:

- best natural light you can have is on a cloudy day. Why? Because sunlight refracts through the clouds and the result it a surrounding light just perfect for shooting outside

- light reflecting surfaces such as aluminum foil are great to reflect the sunlight onto your subject's dark side (they are also available at specialized shops but you can build one out of tin foil and cardboard, just stick the foil to the cardboard and you have a light reflector)

- white is your best bet if used as background cause it reflects the light back, thus offering a glow to your subject, black simply absorbs all the photons.

- white is not a great choice for clothing when you shoot outside, it will always look overexposed (we all know how hard it is to see those details of the bride's wedding dress)

- red is the strongest color in bright light, green is the best distinguishable color in dim light

- sunlight can damage your camera sensor for good so try not to shoot directly at it

- if you take a picture on a sunny day always keep the sun at your back, you will have a sky to look at in your pictures and the things and people your shoot will show clear features

- sunset light is great for shooting, thanks to our refracting atmosphere the light will catch a warm glow that will make your images look dreamy

My final advice is, before you go shooting mind the light, cause everything depends on it.

Photo credits: Gethinlane, Richard Griffin.

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May 02, 2012


Very useful.Thank you.

December 23, 2009


the f16 rule is helpful when you don't have a lightmeter around as well:

f16 at 1/125sec at 100ISO between 10am and 4pm on a sunny day with the sun should give you an accurate exposure. Add 1 stop for some cloud cover and 2 stops for overcast weather. Each hour before or after 10 or 4 add a stock.

thanx for the lesson - reminds me of Theory of Photography at University and also of high school physics.

October 27, 2009


Thank you!
useful tips.

October 23, 2009


Hey! thanks I found it very useful. Cheers

October 21, 2009


Thanks ! Best wishes!!

October 20, 2009


You should also know by now that we DO NOT discuss rejections on the message boards. If you want answers to your questions reply to the refusal email.
Also, reading the entire blog might have helped: "For microstock photography is usually better to overexpose your image by a half stop, or even a full stop, depending on the actual conditions"
Editorial and RF are different and they are treated different in review as well.

October 20, 2009


"best natural light you can have is on a cloudy day. Why? Because sunlight refracts through the clouds and the result it a surrounding light just perfect for shooting outside"

If only that were true. I recently submitted 5 shots, taken on a cloudy day. 1 was rejected because it wasn't what they were looking for. Fine. 2 submitted for editorial use were accepted but the other two, taken at the exact same time, within minutes of each other, were rejected for "poor lighting set up, poor contrast". They were exposed correctly, and were good enough for editorial I suppose. hmmm. I also submitted 2 shots of a bagpiper at sunset. I shot him DELIBERATELY against the sunset to create a silhouette. They were rejected for "incorrect exposure" INCORRECT!!! Who are these people reviewing images that they second guess my intentions. As a designer myself I can assure you that I have in the past and will in the future, need such photos, I guess I'll have to get them from another agency.

October 06, 2009


This is a very usefull blog. Thanks Ioana.

October 05, 2009


nice & very use full blog..................

October 05, 2009


Thanks Ioana! Great blog...

October 03, 2009


Light is the biggest issue I have to constantly work on, study, understand, improve and master. To me it's the most important element in photography. Without light there is no photography. Thanks for all the tips. Barbara

October 03, 2009


Good information! I will print it out and then immediately misplace it like everything else......now, where is that last MR I had signed. Oh, well, maybe I'll retain some of the info.

October 03, 2009


Creativei - you can always just save as in a browser and store the web page locally for review later...
I do that most of the time, but now I use Acrobat professional and highlight the portion I need and save them in pdf. Its better this way, just highlight what you need and click save.
And Brad, PDF is the best option than anything else.

October 02, 2009


Well, don't know if I have any stock worthy pictures in those from Spain, they are more vacation images, you know, memories (I like those).
Didn't know they are making light tents for people, I don't think it's such a great idea, not very encouraging to be creative. I have two flashes that I use for people images and with two flashes you can have great lighting, with three even better.
Global dimming was produced by our own life style, yey to the industrial revolution and aerosols. From what I know in the past decade the dimming is actually brightening since we pretty much gave up aerosols with certain components. However it is the actual light from our Sun is pretty much the same, sometime radiation increases when a solar flare burst but that's about it, and it will be about another 5 million years until the Sun will actually change.

Fleyeing , it is true that on overcast days the colors are less bright, but there are certain types of images you can take on those days. Work with the mood :)

October 02, 2009


Moral of this story buy a light tent
I understand they are making them for people now but I haven't tried one yet.
Did you know we have global dimming to go with everything else?

October 01, 2009


Welcome back! Sounds like you had a great holiday. Will we be seeing any pics soon? Light, that magical element, isn't it funny how some of the best light can come at at time when you don't really want to be out in it, thunderstorms, after sunset getting eaten alive by mossies hee hee.

October 01, 2009


Hi! Thank you for answering, I'll try next time I'm going to shoot indoors. I use a Targus TG-DL20C I bought it by ebay USA with my last DT payment instead of convert dollars to euros I buy through ebay photography equipment ;);)

October 01, 2009


I agree about the 1/2 stop overexposure for digital shots. This sounds counter-intuitive for people that were used to film, but nothing is worse than the noisy blobs in the deep shadows for stock. Of course, you should shoot RAW then, since RAW has much more luminance space (12 or 14 bits) than JPG (8-bits). For blown out parts of the image, you can use a second "development" from RAW with exposure -1 and get all that info back. You then do a selective erase.

For outdoors, I avoid to shoot on a cloudy or overcast day. The sun adds a color vibrance you will never get otherwise, certainly not by pumping up saturation. I'm mostly working in the tropics where the sun is right on top, and to avoid the deep shadows on vertical planes of objects or people, I also (like you) use a strong fill-in speedlight. An on-cam flash won't be enough outdoors, so I use an SB800, which is very portable for nature shots.

Creativei - I always save interesting articles everywhere locally on my disk. Bookmarking is not enough since a blog or site might disappear (remember what happened with TheMiz) and you might want to read on a place where there is no net, like on travel. I saved all the articles of Ellen Boughn that way in a separate folder. In FireFox, just type CTRL-S.

October 01, 2009


thanks for that, great blog :)

October 01, 2009


Creativei - you can always just save as in a browser and store the web page locally for review later...

October 01, 2009


A very useful article,thanks a lot for share with us

October 01, 2009


Great useful article thank you! Glad you enjoyed your holiday!

October 01, 2009


What flash did you buy?
With a flash like the 580EXII or something similar simply point it towards the ceiling and you have a light bath all around you. If you want more directed light point it toward a white wall.
You can make a softbox from cardboard, make sure it is big enough to diffuse light and small enough not to enter in your field of view. Inside the box use aluminum foil to coat the walls, in front of the box use a simple sheet of white paper. You will have to use your flash on manual, of course. Using a lightbox will give you a softer light.
you can also use the white sheet of plastic inside the flash head. simply point is up. The light will bounce from that plastic white sheet, you can make one if your flash doesn't have one, from a small piece of white cardboard.

I've been in a few places, Sagrada Familia, of course, than we walked to hospital de sant pau. From there we walked to parc guell.

In another day we've seen La Rambla, went up el Monumento al Colon (it's moving in the wind so I snapped pics fast and went down cause it was scary), walked a little around the port area and than we went to see Gaudi's houses on passeig de gracia.

We didn't stay in barcelona, we stayed near Cambrils and we were parking our car at cornella and than on the subway and train.

Of course I like the city, it was clean and lively and nice. It's great to live so close to the seaside.

October 01, 2009


Thanks for the article. I fight with light problems every time I go shooting, sometimes too much light other bad light... A very sunny day is bad to take good shoots, things appear overexposed and indoors I need a flash=objects burnt

I recently bought a suppletory flash for my G9, whic tips can you give me in order not to have a direct flash light when I need to use it? (i find situations in which I can't dispose natural light and need to use a flash in avoid total darkness)

thank you!!!

PS. Which places of my city visited?? did you like it?

October 01, 2009


Light! Such a wonderful word in photography!

Thanks for this article, Ioana.


October 01, 2009


Thanks Asyan, how to repair, well, in photoshop you can raw correct them but it will only work up to a limit. If the are is completely black it won't work also if it's completely blown.
Your best bet is to try an average or to use braketing and than work in photoshop.

October 01, 2009


Very interesting blog Ioana!

October 01, 2009


Very useful, not to mention very well written...but I was wondering how can I repair the under or over exposure areas in photoshop or in any other soft?
Btw: Welcome back! :)

October 01, 2009


That a useful article and thanks for share with us!Best wishes!

October 01, 2009


Thanks Ioana for this useful piece of article. Very informative indeed.

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