Natural light

Natural light comes from the sun, even if it comes from the moon. Mid-day light has a colour temperature of somewhere around 5600 Kelvin, what our eyes and brain interprets as white. Our digital cameras work best in the “white” range even though Auto White Balance is turned on.

We need to pay attention to white balance because our brains have the ability to correct for white under many different lighting conditions but our cameras don’t share that ability. Auto White Balance comes close, but can fail spectacularly under some circumstances.

Electronic flash guns pump out clean white light, but it’s not “natural” light because parts of the spectrum are missing.

image

Clean mid-day white light in Queenstown, New Zealand, 2008.

A little bit of trivia – daylight colour temperature varies with latitude. At the equator mid-day light is slightly “warm” as we approach the poles, north or south, the light becomes progressively “cooler.” In the film days colour film was calibrated for the needs of the main market for a particular film type. Agfa colour film was balanced for northern latitudes to warm up the cool light.

Artificial Light

Shooting under artificial light brings a few concerns for composition. Artificial light may look white to the eye but not to the sensors in our cameras, colour film suffered from the same issues. Setting white balance to the lighting is important if we want to maintain a natural or neutral balance. Different light sources have different “white” values.

  • If you are shooting under tungsten light – yellow-orange cast
  • Shooting under “White” or “Natural” colour LEDs – slightly warm cast
  • Shooting under fluorescent “bright white” – blueish cast
  • Shooting under fluorescent “warm white” – yellow cast

If you are shooting JPG, make sure you dial in the white balance for the light you are working with. If you shoot RAW, you can fix white balance in post – most of the time.

If a flash is used, the white balance is best at daylight setting.

image

Indoor scene with good white balance, colours look natural, whites are white.

image

Effect of shooting under tungsten, or “warm,” lighting with daylight white balance.

image

Effect of shooting under fluorescent white lighting with daylight white balance.

A shot in the dark

Shooting in limited light raises technical challenges as well as composition. For low light photography, we will need to use a tripod, the heavier the better. If your tripod is a light weight travel model, use a weight suspended from the bottom of the tripod to add stability. Make sure that the weight cannot swing if there is any wind as this will create vibration, allowing the weight to just touch the ground works well. Other technical concerns centre around increased noise from high ISO and sensor heating. High ISO brings increasing levels of noise to an image, but we have to live with it. Sensor heating from very long exposures, say 1 minute or more, creates noise artifacts. Many digital cameras have a setting that can cancel out long exposure noise, the downside is that the camera must make two exposures for every image, one to capture the image and one to capture noise on a black background, the two being blended to cancel the noise effectively.

Shooting at night brings many new composition possibilities. Potential subjects include:

  • Light trails
  • City lights
  • Lanterns
  • Astronomical
  • Star trails
  • Moon
  • Milky Way

•Some people call this “available light” photography

image

The Pearl Tower in Shanghai, China – 2018. ISO 1600, 142mm, f 2.8, 1/125, handheld.

image

Downtown Calgary, 2007. ISO 100, 36mm, f 22, 40 seconds, tripod

image

Lanterns in Hanoi, Vietnam, 2018. ISO 3200, 70mm, f 4, 1/350 sec handheld.

image

Harvest moon near Calgary, 2007. ISO 500, 150mm f 5, 1/250 sec. Tripod

image

The Milky Way from Hornby Island 2015. ISO 6400, 24mm, f 4, 30 seconds, tripod.

Geometry

Use geometric shapes in the image to add interest.

  • Circles
  • Straight sided objects – squares, rectangles, rhomboids
  • Spirals
  • etc.

image

The arch or half circle. Like a tunnel, circular windows in an image draw the viewer in. Even in a still scene the circle or arch implies potential for movement.

image

Squares tend to enclose the scene and convey a sense of containment.

image

The undulating line can invoke rhythm. In this image, the curving road speaks to the difficulty of merging technology with wild places.

image

Be careful trying to merge too many geometric shapes into one image.

image

The spiral horns of the mountain goat pull the viewer’s eye along the curve to the animal’s eyes. Spirals imply circular motion.

Compose with colour

Colour has a direct impact on the brain, bright, bold, and strong colours arouse, pastels calm.

Sometimes colour is the image, sometimes colour is a supporting actor. We may choose to lift a colour out from the scene or suppress colour to make a point.

image

Bold colours – like a visual alarm clock.

image

Similar colours in pastel tones are more like a lullaby.

image

Using colour as the image.

image

Or colour can be a supporting actor.

image

We can emphasize a colour by lifting it out of a scene.

image

image

And we can suppress colours to emphasize a core subject.

image

A little colour theory might help

Colour theory helps us find colours that compliment each other. On a colour wheel, find colours that are on opposite sides of the circle, these are complimentary. Find complimentary colours in the real world and you have the start of a good image.

image

The colour wheel. Colours on opposite sides of the wheel are complimentary.

image

The red and orange of the setting sun compliment the blue of the sky. Look at colours on opposite sides of the wheel for drama.

image

Look at adjacent colours for harmony and peace.

Or look for colours from around the wheel.

image

Find patterns

Patterns in a scene can make an image more interesting. Our brains have an instinctive habit of seeing patterns in what would otherwise be called chaos, that’s why we see puppies in clouds. Patterns can be colours or lines in a landscape or architectural features.

image

The colours and lines in this terraced field might make the viewer think of a quilt.

image

Patterns with squares, columns, and colours.

image

The pattern formed by the spiraling steps pulls the viewer into the scene.