7 Photography Tips for Great Light

Do you want to know how to get the most out of your camera and create great images? For Julia Lloyd, photography certainly is about getting composition, aperture, speed, lens and focus right, but the ultimate ingredient is great light.

Julia2“A block of concrete can become beautiful in superb light. Look for that natural light. And if the light isn’t great, make it great. Realise that you can control it, be adventurous, and play with it. And when all this comes together, watch your pictures ‘pop’ off the page,” is her advice.

In the harsh Southern Hemisphere sun, photographers serious about creating the best images outdoors need to open their camera bags with the dawn, shoot for an hour, close up shop and only reopen for the last two hours of the day. Natural light is usually superb at this time, when it is gold and angled low. These two pictures of oranges were taken in the late afternoon – same day, same time, same bowl, same fruit, same table. The uninteresting, flatly lit bowl on the right was just shifted to the other end of the table where side light created mood and allowed a smaller aperture that turned a shaded garden wall into a dark background – and dark backgrounds always best show up great light. While photographing these series for COUNTRY LIFE I used only available light but invariably had to work from 10h00 until 15h00, the worst time of day for light. It would’ve been a hopeless situation without what I called my bag of tricks…

1. Make a background

These glasses of wheatgrass were set up on a green cloth – my trick bag carries a piece each of green, black, brown and white cloth. The sun came from behind through the gaps between the glasses, onto the front wheatgrass. I filled in with a fold-out reflector – white side – from the front. But the light on the cloth was flat so I placed a shaving mirror on a chair to the right of the shot, spread and taped cotton wool over the mirror and made some rough holes in the cotton wool, angling the mirror to catch the sun and bounce it onto the cloth behind the glasses.

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Photo2_07_cl2. Create shadows

Often in photographs you’re left with dead space in the foreground, which cannot be cropped out. A vase of flowers placed to the left of the frame often creates this problem area. This vase was placed in shade with a pop-out reflector at the front, and two shaving mirrors left front and left back to create strong shadows on the concrete. Problem solved.

3. Lose the sun

Photo5_07_clThis tiny (3cm wide) violet was in full sun – invariably a hopeless situation in macro photography of plants, as they are ‘blown out’ in the sun. I have a small, extremely lightweight tripod in my bag that I use to tape reflectors or tinfoil to. I placed it over the plant and taped to it my white sunshade. Then I lay down flat to ‘get into’ the flower with my macro lens. I always carry a water spray and added some ‘morning dew’.

4. Create highlights

Photo1_07_clThis shot was set up on a concrete bench in flat shade (which tones everything a cold blue). The sun appeared through the overhead tree, behind the table, shining towards camera. A large fold-out reflector (white side) bounced sunlight into the shot from the front, and highlights were created from the left front using a free-standing shaving mirror. Light reflected off a mirror can sometimes be intense, but is easily softened by scattering talcum powder onto the glass, even more so by fastening muslin over the mirror with a rubber band.

5. Fill in

If you’re outdoors in the harsh light look for side or back light and fill in by lying a reflector – silver side up – to bounce light back into the area that is receiving no direct sun. This will allow you to use a higher aperture and get more detail in the background (blue sky) and in the highlights (veins in the brightly lit petals), both of which would have been blown out without any fill-in.

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6. Make starbursts

Photo3_07_clTin foil is a photographer’s best friend (well, one of them). A small piece placed to bounce light into any dark corner of a scene will lift any photograph. Here three pieces of foil were cut to neatly fit under each perfume bottle and create an intense pool of light under each. Often with glass this forms a starburst.

7. Go for drama

Photo4_07_clThese images were taken in shade on a veranda. A small infinity curve was created with a piece of black cardboard (A4) taped flat to the table top and curved up to be taped to a chair back, and become the backdrop. No light was allowed to fall on the cardboard, and a mirror was used on one side of each shot to gather up the sunlight and throw it back onto the subject. A pop-out reflector in front gives a softer fill, not as intense as the mirror. Play with the mirror, tilt it, throw light through the subject, the choice is yours.

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