Light waves

17/07/2012
Soon the house will stop rocking no doubt. Not from me playing my guitar, but from spending so long bouncing around on the water taking classic yacht photographs– and it’s not over yet. They say familiarity breeds contempt and as a photographer that can become the case. How many more wide angle landscapes can you produce whilst retaining interest? How many more yachts can you capture crashing through the waves? Last Friday I was on the water, in a RIB with a bunch of other photographers shooting the classic yachts competing in the Panerai British Classic Yacht Regatta for the fourth day in a row. During the week I had good light and no waves; bad light and good waves; cracking light and cracking waves; and just plain rubbish light and rubbish waves. That was as it was late in the day on Friday. I couldn’t really see the point of taking another photograph. If I did, I wasn’t going to improve on what I already had in the bag, all because of the light. Most of the other photographers were still firing away and in a way, I felt a bit guilty for not shooting. The sky was flat grey with no directional light making everything in its wake equally flat. I bet you think I’m going to say that I managed to pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat to produce a real stunner of an image, but no, that’s not the point.

Photography – drawing with light. As a photographic artist that’s what we do, use the light to its best advantage. Yes, if forced we can make an image when the conditions are not perfect. In many cases that is what makes a good professional photographer, producing good images no matter what the conditions. Just how do you make every bride a beautiful princess? How can you make a product shot of a packet of biscuits with impact or a landscape lacking contour punchy? Judicious use of light, that’s how as the first step. Learning how to maximise the light is a skill. Using light, whether natural rays coming from the sun or artificial light from a bulb, takes practise and experience.

Last week I did some field craft work with a bunch of fellow photographers. At one location I asked them what they would photograph and when. There were many disparate replies all concerned with the direction of the light being in front of them. I kept saying that they were not thinking as photographers. They were dealing with the ‘there and then’, not the ‘what if’ at a different time of day when the light was coming from a different direction. Once I explained, they all saw the light, (pun intended).

Yes we can help our cameras capture the available light by bringing it within the dynamic range of our tools. Attaching a Lee 0.6 hard graduated neutral density filter does the trick for me in a great many landscape situations, bringing the light range of the brighter sky to be more in keeping to that of the land. On the water, experience has taught me to position the press boat effectively for the shot I want. For that bride to be beautiful though? Surreptitious use of light and, in some occasions, copious amounts of shadow hides the sins of the flesh I am reliably informed!

The thing is, consider all the images you like; the ones you aspire to capture; invariably they are all down to the photographer’s use of light. Without it, there is no photograph. Without good use of it there is little or no impact. So there you have it really. This month’s missive: Learn about the light; find out how to use it; experiment with it; most of all understand it. When you do, your images will start to give credence to the noun – photograph – drawing with light.

Keep practising

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