The Importance of Light

Light. Such an important factor in making an image. After composition I'd argue that light is indeed the most important factor. 

I was out shooting last Thursday in the hills around Binevenagh. I have to admit the weather was less than ideal for most of the day, but I persevered, working with what was in front of me. In one particular location the light was ever changing as squalls of rain would sweep in (and over me) from time to time. This changing light gave me an opportunity to study the light more closely. 

I shot a few frames as the light changed to show here on the blog the difference it can make to an image. No image manipulation has taken place, these are all straight out of camera.  All images are shot on the Fuji XE2 with the Fuji 35mm (f/1.4) lens. 

Changing Light and the Impact on Your Images

In this first image the light is quite  flat. I do however like the tones in the background to the left of the frame, especially the distance hill and the darker cloud above. Not enough light and depth in the foreground however, especially as I try and give some level of separation between the tufts of grass and the trees. 

Taken at 09.35.05 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/220 second) 

Taken at 09.35.05 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/220 second) 

In this next image notice how the appearance of better light (to the left of the frame) has now given us some shadows to the right of the tufts of grass. We also have some further depth and detail on the trunks of the trees, especially the furthest one to the right. Stronger light on the distant hills as well helps to give us further depth as we work our way through the image. 

Taken at 09.35.21 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/300 second) 

Taken at 09.35.21 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/300 second) 

We are starting to loose the light again, especially in the foreground. I still quite like the subtle light on the right hand clump of trees in the frame. That light is helping to give some individuality to each tree and branch which I think is important. I also quite like the light on the leaning fence to the right of the frame. Most of the detail has been lost however on the trees in the foreground. 

Taken at 09.35.43 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/350 second) 

Taken at 09.35.43 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/350 second) 

And in this final image the sun has gone behind a cloud. An image which, apart from this blog post, would not have been made. That said, I quite like how the hill on the left hand side of the frame is almost invisible behind the low hanging cloud. That perhaps in another image with better light may have made something. 

Taken at 09.39.44 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/40 second) 

Taken at 09.39.44 (f/11, ISO 800, 1/40 second) 

Note the times on the images, especially the first three. Under 40 seconds between each one and yet the light was quite different in each. Even that last image was taken no more than 5 minutes from the others. 

The Study of Light; A Useful Exercise 

So my point? Well I guess it's two fold. 

Firstly, in my formative years I would have tried to push an image even when the light was flat and boring. One major issue with this approach is that if you had taken 10 images where the light was very flat you may try and trick your mind into thinking you can perhaps make something of the image, in post for example. In this example having the reference of the other images when the light was a tad more interesting clearly shows that this final image should not have been captured, and at the very least should never see the light of day. As you progress with your photography you will get to know when to take an image and when to leave the shutter button alone (or even to leave the camera in the bag). 

Secondly, I think it's important, as photographers, that we study light, not just with a camera in our hand, but continually when we are out and above.  I quite often try and pay attention to particular landmarks or locations (a tree, a lake, a building) especially those which I have easy and regular access to. Spending even an hour studying how the light is affecting the scene in front of you can be a very useful exercise. Also while I'm at it don't forget to look up. Yes I know that a big ball of fire is up there giving us this light but how often do you look at a scene, look at the position of the sun and ask yourself how the sun's position is impacting the scene. Or ask yourself how the clouds passing over are perhaps helping to give different levels of light across the image. 

I hope you found this little exercise in light useful. As always I'd love to hear from your in the comments. 

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