Extraordinary Light for Extraordinary Photography


Badlands 750It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That may be true, but when it comes to your photography the more eyes that behold the beauty in your work the better. You’ll feel more accomplished as a photographer and you’ll have greater opportunities to display your work.

So, how do we make our photographs look beautiful to more people? Focusing on four key elements is crucial: light, composition, subject and contrast. 

For an image to be successful it doesn’t need to excel in each one of these four areas, but at least one or two of the four must be eye-catching. The other elements have to be at least good enough to accent the photo and not detract from it.

Lighting, the Most Important Element in Photography

Lighting is considered by many to be the most important element in a photograph. After all, photography means light writing. Light can truly make or break your image. Famous landscape photographer William Neill says, “Light is the defining ingredient in most great images.” I have also heard it said, “Don’t take photos of extraordinary places in ordinary light.”

There’s no better place to illustrate this then the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. When I was planning a trip, I was told by some friends not to go. They described it as a dull grey-brown, unflattering landscape. The problem was, they drove through in the afternoon. When visiting the park during sunset or sunrise, the nearly monochrome landscape is transformed to jagged formations of brilliant reds and oranges pressed against a blue sky. The warm light and long shadows make the landscape come alive with drama.

I would add to the phrase, “Don’t take photos of extraordinary places in ordinary light” with the statement “Don’t take photos of ordinary or extraordinary events and people in ordinary light.” If you can, do most of your photography early or late in the day (that’s when I set up portraits). Obviously, some things we can’t control; they happen when they happen. But even when I shoot all-day sports tournaments, I get my best shots later in the day. 

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Examples from the slideshow:

The portrait of the young woman with a cowboy hat shows the importance of shooting portraits with morning or evening light. Even though she is in the shadow the evening light pulls out warmer skin tones and creates a warm glow in the background.

The photograph from the Badlands National Park illustrates the impact early morning light has on a landscape. The rocks reflect the warm early morning sunlight and the low angle light creates deep long shadows that show texture.

The two sports photos reveal the importance of the low angle light that comes early and late in the day. The soccer photo was taken in mid-afternoon light, which causes shadows in the eyes from the high sun. The football photo was taken later in the day; the lower angle of the sun lights up the boy’s face nicely.

Meet e4e author, Cru alum, and professional photographer, Pat Mingarelli, and read Pat’s posts on e4e.

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