Photography: [Attempting to] Compose with Light

I’m a hack photographer. I hack at the controls, subjects, framing, focus, etc… to see what happens. I have had a lot of help along the way that has short circuited me past a lot of basic mistakes (Duncan, Derrick and the O’Reilly folk deserve a lot of credit for that).

Lately, I have been hacking on lighting. Not just the instant light of high speed photography, but also on positioning myself more creatively when taking naturally lit photos to maximize the quality of reflections, shadows, or other lighting features.

Ruby And Roger in Sprinkler

The photo to the right is my attempt to capture a rainbow while my son — Roger — and puppy — Ms. Ruby White Paw — played in the sprinkler. The sun was low in the sky (around 5pm) and I took the pictures while lying down with the sun over my right shoulder, hoping that the sun’s rays would be at the right angle to cast a rainbow across the scene.

Ruby And Roger in Sprinkler

Worked out surprisingly well.

Ducks Landing on Water

I also wanted to capture a picture of ducks landing on the pond in Missouri. This was my first attempt. OK — but not really. Too much garbage on the pond, and the direction of the light caused too much noise in the reflections.

The picture at left had much more thought given to the lighting and positioning. I took the picture from a lower angle, thus reducing the amount of cloud and bright spots from the sky. I still don’t like softness of the focus. Hard to set up the shot, though, as the ducks don’t really tend to go where you want ’em and then don’t fly where you might expect.

On The Pond....

I even woke up at 6AM one day and, instead of going back to sleep, decided to check out the mythical “magical light of morning”. Gotta say. Morning sun is pretty sweet light. Not so nice that I’ll make a habit of getting up at that time, but I’ll definitely take advantage of it when I happen to be conscious at that time.

6 Responses to “Photography: [Attempting to] Compose with Light”

  1. Blake Seely says:

    Funny you should post some shots of the lake… It was so sunny and warm and still in the bay area last week, that every day along 280, Crystal Springs was amazingly beautiful: a perfect mirror of the warm morning light and the forests and trees Literally stunning.. And every day, I told myself that I needed to bring my camera with me to work so I could try to capture it. Unfortunately, the only day I remembered my camera – Friday – was foggier and windier than the rest of the week, which gave everything a much flatter look, without the glow. And the window made for little or no reflection off the surfance.

  2. Charles says:

    That early morning light is commonly referred to as “the Golden Hour” due to the unique qualities of the light that lasts for about an hour. There’s a Golden Hour in the late afternoon too, the sun just comes from the opposite angle.

    The whole crux of photography is refining your skills at seeing how light illuminates the subject. Classically trained photogs (like me, I have a BFA in Photography) refer to this as “seeing.” If you can “see photographs” then you have a better chance of capturing a good image. “Seeing” is a mental skill combining observation of subjects and lighting, plus knowledge (and experience) of how your equipment will capture that light.

  3. bbum says:

    Thank you. If you have any recommendations on good books on the subject, I would be interested. I’m also considering signing up for an evening class at the local college.

  4. Charles says:

    Well, the best photo books are probably the old classics that predate digital. This isn’t really a problem, as digital methods are modeled around the old film cameras. You don’t have to study development and printing methods anymore, but it would probably be good if you learned a bit about it anyway since there are things to be learned that will carry over to digital.
    I think my favorite photo book series is out of print, but it’s probably in about any public library, there were probably millions of them in print, starting in the 1970s when I used them to learn photography. Look for the “Time-Life Photo Library,” it was a series of volumes with titles like “The Camera,” “The Negative,” etc. They are loaded with beautiful photos to illustrate key concepts in practical use, and printed beautifully in high resolution, high density rotogravure. The books are luscious.
    The classical pro photo education is usually based on The Zone System by Ansel Adams. It is a fairly complex method and involves lots of experiments to calibrate your equipment, it is a precursor of modern color management systems. Adams teaches a concept called “previsualization,” you see what you want to photograph, then you use your knowledge of your equipment to determine how to best capture it on film. I wouldn’t suggest starting out with Adams’ Zone System, but if you should eventually study it if you want to make great photos.

  5. Adrian says:

    I just saw the Big Green Egg in a German catalog for €1350. That’s like $1700. They claim that taxes and shipping costs would be enourmous. I wonder how much a Big Green Egg would cost on Mars then.

  6. Charles says:

    Ah, I poked around Amazon and the series I recommended is actually the “Life Library of Photography.” I saw a few of them for sale used on Amazon, for cheap. I’d particularly recommend “Light and Film” and “The Camera” which are the first couple of volumes in the series.

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