Light

It’s not the light, but where you are in it.

Jim Stanfield

Light and color are inseparable, they are in fact one and the same. Run white light (sunlight) through a prism and you get a rainbow of colors, right? Primary and secondary colors are the rainbow: Red, Yellow, Blue, Orange, Green, Violet. Black is the absence of color… Void… Nill… None. All other colors that you see are combinations of the primary and secondary colors.

A healthy human eye has three different cone cells that each see a different color to combine to about a million discernable shades of what we call the visible spectrum. The rod cells allow us to see in low light, or even pitch black darkness. Combined, we see black, white, greys, and varying shades between red (cool) and blue (hot).

The light sensor on a digital camera also sees RGB coloring schemes and comes in two varieties: Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS), and Charge-Coupled Device (CCD). This sensor has as many ‘photosites’ as your camera has pixels. The greater the number of pixels, the better the image quality.

Lighting plays a key role in the quality of a photo as you, the photographer, want a colorful, crisp, clear image with lots of depth of field. After all, a photo is nothing more than captured photons put into print media. You’re in charge of the intensity of light in your picture through the triangle: ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed.

Through these three settings, you may control the amount of ambient or added light that the camera ‘sees’ and records. After all, the camera records mostly reflected light off of the subject(s)…. That’s why you see them in the first place. In the odd case… you may be shooting into the sunlight and record direct sun itself as a component of your photo.

Ambient light may be direct or reflected onto your subject, just as added light may be direct or reflected onto your subject. You can use any means of reflector you see fit, not just commercially available photographic reflectors. Think outside of the box and use a T-shirt, colored construction paper, or anything colored to add a tinge of different shading to your photograph. Just remember when it comes to wavelength of color, the shorter the wavelength, the hotter it will get. Hence Red is cooler than Blue.

If your pictures are ‘cold’ or ‘hot’ you will have added an element of interest that may be symbolically linked to a passionate romance, or even the cooling of your heals. To control the light balance in your photos, you may use the white balance feature on your SLR to adjust the light for many situations:

  • Daylight
    • counteracts the harsh yellow prominent in sunlight
  • Tugsten
    • adds blue to correct to white
  • Auto White
    • provides balance and cleans the photo to white
  • Flourescent
    • negates green in photo
  • Cloudy day
    • good for overcast days
    • warms the scene
    • bit warmer than daylight

Digital cameras have a tool that is useful for checking color saturation, or clipping, called a histogram. The histogram profile should normally be centered,not bulky to the left or right, and definitely not clipped at the top. In the photo below is a photograph I have taken with my camera, depicted within is the relevant histogram. As you can see, the bulk of the data is centered fairly well with one spike off towards the red end of the spectrum and it is definitely cropped because of being too bright. This is a frontal shot of the rising sun without filters, but possible because of the smoke in the air. Looking closely, you will see the black dot near the centre of the image… This shows areas that are cropped or have fully saturated the sensors.

Below is the actual image that the camera recorded untouched and resized for size constraints. As you see, this photo turned out well and the saturation occurred right where the sun was picked up by the sensor.

Types of Lighting

  • Front
    • Direct from front
    • Harsh lighting
    • Boring
    • Flattens Shadow
  • Back
    • Subject can go black
    • Silhouette lighting
    • Rim lighting
  • Hatchet
    • Side lighting
    • Light source is off to one side, lighting that side, and prevented from lighting the other side
  • Ghost Lighting
    • Vincent Price lighting
    • From below
    • Straight up on subject

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