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Lighting effects (11/26/2006)
By Tom Hirsch


     
The word "photography" literally means "writing with light." Light is not just used for illuminating a scene or subject. It also gives it form and shape, depth perspective, and it can create mood. Lighting is either artificial or natural, or it can be a combination. Outdoor lighting is quite variable, and each variation can lead to interesting photographs if we know how to use the light as we find it.

Time of day has a profound effect on the mood expressed in a photo. Possibly the least interesting of all lighting conditions is that found at high noon on a bright sunny summer day. Because the atmosphere filters out less of the blue light rays when the sun is at its zenith, noontime sunlight tends to be cooler than that found during other times of the day. There are a couple of problems that can arise from sunlight coming straight down on the subject. When photographing a person under these conditions, for example, the shadows created by the person's eyebrows can obscure the subject's eyes. Scenery needs shadows in order to give the feeling of depth to the subject, and noontime shadows provide little modeling effect.

Morning or afternoon on a sunny day in summer is a much better time for picture taking. This is especially true if the shadows are at about a forty-five degree angle or lower. An even more dynamic time of day is either the period from one to two hours after sunrise or before sunset. Sunlight is much warmer, and shadows are longer, adding a greater feeling of depth to the scene. During the spring, fall and winter months, the sun is never directly overhead, so this problem is less serious during those times of the year.

Along with time of day, the nature of the sky also has an effect on the outcome of a photograph. The intensity of the shadows can help set the mood of a photo, and it will determine the degree of detail shown in the subject. Sky conditions can be divided into five groups, each of which has quite distinct characteristics.

Bright Sunlight has no clouds obscuring the sun at the time of exposure. Contrast is quite high, so, depending on the time of day, this type of lighting is great for creating shadow effects, such as bringing out texture in a subject. Under bright sunlight, colors are very bright, and depth perspective is enhanced in the photograph. However, because of the strong shadows, this type of lighting is less than ideal for outdoor portraits.

Under Hazy Sunlight, the sun is covered with a thin haze. Overall, a very desirable lighting condition. Shadows are somewhat soft and diffused, so some detail will be found in both shadow and highlight areas of a photograph. This is good lighting condition for people pictures.

If the sky is Cloudy Bright, you'll see a faint disk of sun in the sky, and shadows will be extremely faint. This sky condition is still pretty good for pictures of people because they won't have to squint. Colors will be soft and muted, but this may be a desirable effect. Scenery shots will be quite flat, lacking the depth found in photos taken under bright or hazy sunlight.

A Heavy Overcast sky produces no shadows at all. The sun is completely hidden. Colors are very soft and muted, and detail is found in all parts of the subject. Again, this lighting can be good for people pictures, bad for scenics.

Cloudy Dark -it's about to rain. Try for some interesting turbulent cloud shots, but be ready to run for cover. 

 

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