Photography is all about catching light (literally) and yet I have never played about with lighting in any depth before. I’ve played with every setting on all my cameras but that is only part of the story.
In my opinion, there are three parts to taking pictures:
- The light before the subject
- The subject
- The light after the subject (to the camera)
So with a typical outdoor photo that might include:
- Light from the sun
- Hits a landscape/person and is reflected
- Position the camera to catch the light
Where am I going with this?
I think when anyone takes a picture they are playing with part 3. By playing with camera settings etc you enable yourself to capture the light more effectively.
Interacting with the subject before taking the picture is playing with part 2. This might consist of telling someone to smile or describing a precise pose. Alternatively, it might be cleaning/moving something to get a better photo. So part 2 again isn’t necessarily demanding.
If you are outside you would normally use the sun to light up your subject or if it’s dark/inside you may use flash. Since getting an external flash for my DSLR I have been able to tinker with part 1 by bouncing light off the ceiling/walls onto the subject. Compare this to a photo studio where there are carefully positioned lights everywhere! Playing with part 1 is a great way to change the look/feel of photos.
Mini comparison of flash lighting
The photo is of a peacock feather with sunlight coming from the near right. The picture without flash lacks contrast due to the bright background and lack of shadows.
The camera flash and external flash with diffuser look best as they have added enough shadow for increased contrast and enhanced colour. The external flash is raised from the camera lens which makes the light non-centred, noticeable without the diffuser at this short range.
Although bouncing the flash off the ceiling or wall normally adds improved shadows, this is not always ideal especially due to the feather leaning forward casting itself in shadow!
The bottom right image (where the flash is not attached to the camera) adds a strong light from the bottom left which completely changes the look of the photo. Although in this case it adds too much shadowing, it does change the colours from all the other examples.
The following photos were taken with the same off camera flash position:
The major benefit I noticed with the off camera flash is that I can get close to the subject without the light changing or casting my own shadow onto it (often the case with sun lit macro shots). The major downside is that I kept blinding myself with the flash… #amateur.