Welcome back to our new series which is all about giving you some basic tips that can help you improve any kind of photography – from your smartphone to a high-end DSLR and everything in between. We’ve previously looked at the effect of grabbing a new lens for DSLR users, and this week’s article is all about light.
It’s hard to overstate how important light is to photography. From the earliest form of the technology, photography is literally the process of capturing light, of replicating its effects via photo-chemical material. In the digital age, the image is interpreted into bits and bytes of data but the sensor still functions by recording the light as it sees it.
And so it goes that light is utmost importance for a photographer. As proof, just try to take a photo in dim light, even in a place where your eyes are managing just fine. Most of the time, you’ll find the picture lacking in detail and sometimes the camera won’t even function at all.
Here are our top tips when it comes to working with light.
Go outsideI know this is Ireland and the weather rarely plays nice but the truth is that, even on an overcast and dull day, you’ll always get better photos outside during the day. And this is for one very obvious reason – the sun.
This giant ball of gas provides an incredible amount of illumination, making even the dullest day a cinch for cameras. In fact, cloudy days are actually better for most photographs because the cloud cover provides natural diffusion, leading to less harsh shadows and giving you more control over your lighting.
One tip though – try to keep the sun behind you and in front of your subject for the most even lighting. Unless you’re trying to create a silhouette effect.
Electric Lights Aren’t That BrightHave you ever seen a movie or TV set? They’re crammed full of massive lights, providing wall to wall illumination that’s much brighter than anything you have at home. For that reason, trying to take a photo of anything indoors under electric light can cause major problems.
Our eyes are so much more sensitive than the sensors in even the most sophisticated cameras, which means lots of disappointing photos most of the time. If you simply have to take a snap indoors, look for especially strong light sources (or find a window) and beware of potentially slow shutter speeds which can lead to blurry shots.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use the FlashOne other way of taking better photos in challenging conditions is to activate your flash. Many smartphones and the vast majority of point and shoot and DSRL cameras feature some kind of flash and they can be a convenient way to illuminate a back-lit subject or to freeze a moment in an otherwise dark situation.
Flashes are far from infallible though. For the most part, they’re pretty underpowered, with proper illumination dropping off in just a few feet. Too far away and you’ll lose detail in your subject, too close and you risk overexposing it. Red eye is also an issue for taking pics of humans (or eye-shine with animals!) but it can be a live saver in a pinch.
The Bigger They Are…A general rule of thumb is – the bigger the camera, the better it is at capturing light. There are a variety of factors at play here but one major one is the size of the image sensor on the camera.
Point and shoot cameras, smartphones, even bridge cameras are mostly designed for convenience – making them as slim and portable as possible. And that’s a great advantage for portability and allows you to get some interesting angles but it also simple means that there’s less space to fit a large, light-grabbing sensor.
So the sensor in a smartphone like the iPhone 5S is less than a quarter of the size of the one you’ll find in the Canon 100D. And that’s not to mention the differences in the sophistication of the materials used. DSLR’s can also use different lenses (as we wrote about last week) and some, like an f1.8 prime lens, can help to let in even more light. Which means the camera can take pictures with less available light without any fuss.
Regardless of what kind of camera you use and whether you’re an enthusiastic amateur or someone snapping a picture on a night out, one piece of advice is crucial – let there be light!
In Short: No matter what kind of photo you want to take the most important thing to remember is that without light, there is no shot!