When you first learn to shoot in manual mode, all that’s on your mind is shutter speed, aperture, and ISO… and hurrying to figure those 3 out before missing your shot opportunity. Once you feel comfortable in those and understand how the three truly work together + begin to “see the light,” you can learn to manipulate light. I shoot in natural night or ambient light almost always and use my in-camera spot meter.
In many situations, my goal is to get that light meter to read 0 or pretty close to so that I know my photo will be exposed correctly. But as my skill grew, I learned how over exposing and under exposing in yummy light can be like adding the cherry on top of that perfect moment documented.
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Seeing the Light
My son was crawling around our front room when I noticed the perfect light coming in from the doorway. The light was not direct sunlight, as we have a covered porch. The light was pure daylight and pure beautiful! Because of the walls, it basically was creating a triangle on the floor. I gave Levi his bottle and knew it was a perfect opportunity to photograph him 360 degrees around so you can see the affect of light.
Here he is crawling from our living room (the carpet area) into our hallway (the hardwood). Where you can see the light strongest on him (where he is the brightest), it’s from the light shining through my front door. I had the door open and he was about 5 feet away from it.
Side Light aka Directional Light
I laid him in the middle of the strongest patch of light. You can see the doorway light is coming from the right side of me. It lands on him so dramatically and quickly fades away with the shadows. I love this look, because when you see the photo, you see only what is important: his details (hair, lashes, fingers), the timestamp (his bottle), and the texture of his blanket leaves mark of sweetness on your heart.
Below, he is still technically being lit from the side, I just moved my position up.
While he was gazing outside, sipping away, I went up about 6 stairs and shot down. You can see how the light is blocked by the wall on the right side, so it truly makes the light on the floor a pocket of dramatic light. I focused on his right eye, which is also where my spot meter reads. I tried to expose in-camera to make his skin tone perfect, which meant I was just below 0 on my meter.
I strongly dislike our carpet in the front room (it was there from previous owners), but I love the texture it gives in the black and white versions of these images!
I came back down stairs and entered the living room. I am standing by his feet so that I can take a few birds-eye photos. He is still being lit from the side, I just have again changed MY position. The only change is his sweet glance up at me. I was in love with how he was clenching onto his “lovey” (blanket) so tight. I took 3 variations of this little detail to play with the composition. I love in-camera framing things in such a way that your are drawn to the detail…. and I don’t mind if that means I leave out part of his eye… it’s about the overall feel.
Here I’ve also under-exposed slightly. The camera wanted it brighter, because it sees the shadows and is like, “too dark! too dark!” However, only revealing what is in the highlights is what makes the images what they are. It’s what makes these photos speak to my heart.
Backlight & Photo Haze
So now you can see the doorway. Because of where I moved, he is technically being backlit. I have also gotten down close to his level when I composed the photo. The light coming in from behind allows you to clearly see the detail of his bottle. The light on him, especially on his leg, now has a slight halo… known as rim lighting. The photo overall has a haze to it, because the light source is coming straight into my camera lens.
Because I’m not really a huge fan of haze, I stepped to the left. Now, he is still being backlit by the door, but the light source is NOT going into my camera lens. I am not in the light, I am in the shadow (behind the wall that blocks some of the light as seen in the photos above). See how much more clarity you get in the image without the haze?
Lastly, I moved to the opposite side of him. Now I am shooting him as if he is in a spot light. I see very little shadowing on him, because of my position. I am not such a fan of this photo, because now I also see the distractions of my crayon decorated wall & Dori + Nemo.
I hope this helps all of you shooters see the light a little easier.
This is an even better article about light: the Master Light Guide for Storytelling Photographers.