The Easiest Rule of Lighting, The Sun Rises in The East and Sets in The West.

See the Light

The easiest rule of lighting, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Photo from my Moab photography workshop.

Light is all around us and it not only illuminates our world, but, allows us to accomplish everyday tasks by eliminating darkness. Just like the air we breathe, we often take light for granted as it’s part of our big picture of life, but as photographers, we need to understand the importance of light. Specifically two things, learn to “see” it as well as how to “feel” it as light varies from point to point.

When it comes to seeing it, we must break out of that big picture mentality, or in layman’s terms, get out of the quantity mode and look for quality instead. Yes, you have to look for quality light; it normally doesn’t hit you from up above, except maybe on an electrifying stormy day. The ability to see light also helps you further develop your photographic eye and style.

Think about it this way, it’s been a cold winter and while you found warmth next to the fireplace, on the first, bright, warm, sunny day you run outside to escape cabin fever. “It’s beautiful” is the first thought in your head, and as the day ends, it begins to get chilly again, but now there is no direct sunlight overhead as there are only slivers of it between buildings and trees. You find your sliver of light, stand there, warm up, and appreciate that feeling of warmth again, but this time, you had to find the sliver, it didn’t come directly to you from overhead.

It’s also about the angle of the illumination, which ultimately can take something boring and convert it to something surprising and more interesting. As photographers we have to learn to study the light in our scenes and if we’re lucky, perhaps study it for days and annotate the best time to photograph that scene. Many famous landscape photographers have done this for years, as it isn’t just about taking the photo, it’s about waiting for the right moment in time.

Cloudy Day Light

Then there are overcast or cloudy days where it’s liking being in a big softbox as in this photo of Lake Louise in Alberta.

As a photographer you must also study the direction of light as with direction, this brings shadows or helps eliminate them. The simple rule here is that the sun sets in the west and rises in the east. That’s probably the easiest rule of illumination when it comes to natural sunlight.

The other rule from the old film days was to keep the sun behind you—lets just say this rule is outdated with today’s technology, but more important, because the rule makes your photography look two-dimensional. Great photographs are like great paintings that utilize the intermixing of shadows and highlights, also known as chiaroscuro to create the illusion of more of what we see, or three-dimensional forms.

White Balance Lighting

“The Creative Possibilities of White Balance, Techniques to Help Define or Maintain Your Style,” was an article I wrote for Studio Photography magazine back in 2005!

When it comes to seeing and feeling light, it also helps if you understand that it has different color temperatures, measured in Kelvin’s, depending on the time of day when it comes to natural sunlight, and the type of source when it comes to artificial light. If we want warmth in natural sunlight outdoors, we wait for the Golden Hour, or use filters to get us there at different hours. If we want warmth with artificial sources, we use tungsten over flash, or if we choose flash, we use gels on the light source, or through filters on our camera lenses.

With digital photography we can also manipulate the color of light through manual white balance. And if you’re into smartphones and Instagram, there is app for that too, or better yet, almost every social media outlet will have a filter for that too. Hopefully all these apps and social media photo filters won’t make photographers lazy when it comes to looking, waiting, and capturing the right light.

St. Peter”s Basilica

Directional light captured inside St. Peter”s Basilica, it contains the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.

Part of seeing and feeling light is also understanding that it normally comes in two forms, direct or diffused, sometimes naturally, sometimes manipulated. If you see direct light, then you’ll know it’s harsh and hard; it will define edges more distinctly through this increased contrast and will provide for deeper plus distinct shadows.

If the light is diffused, it’s more scattered, softer, provides lighter or no shadows, and has less contrast. Obviously you can manipulate diffused illumination to look more directional, like moving a soft box further back from your subject, or you can throw a light modifier in the path of a direct light to soften it.

While these are just a few points to help you learn to see and feel light, they are very important points to remember if you want to improve your photography. Once a photographer has mastered both seeing and feeling light, they become true masters in their photography. So if you haven’t started your journey of learning to see and feel the illumination around you, then do so now by simply looking around you at this very moment and mentally noting what you see when it comes to light, in shape, form and quality—make that a habit and your photography will improve.

Light is all around you, it illuminates your world everyday, all you have to do to improve your photography is take notice of those slivers, forget the overhead. With that I close and as always, especially in today’s crazy world, I ask you not to forget the men and women who serve to protect our freedoms; God Bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.

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