Light: The photographers raw material

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The simplistic definition of photography is painting with light and here I want to explore this a little further to help you with some understanding and a few tips on how to improve your photography.

Light itself is a form of electro-magnetic radiation with some very unusual properties which lend themselves to helping to make photography possible. Light behaves both as a particle and a wave and can exhibit these properties simultaneously – so where does this help us with photography?

Use of light in the landscape

When light acts like a wave, it is able to be refracted by a lens, so that it can be brought to a point of focus allowing us to record an image. When it acts like a particle it can allow the formation of shadows. This is very important for photography as it allows us to make a three dimensional object look real in a two dimensional format – for me it is  is more about the shadows than the light itself.

Here are some thoughts about light which you might not be aware of:

  • The sun only rises directly east an sets directly west on only two days a year at the soltices, any other time it rises and sets differently acccording to the season brought about by the tilt of the Earth.
  • The sun tracks across the sky at 15 degrees per hour.

This means is that there times of the year and times of the day which would not be ideal for some images. The best example here is that if you wished to photograph the famous west aspect of Wells cathedral it would not be much point it turning up in the morning because this would be in shadow. Photography at this location is best in the afternoon.

Here is some good advice for travel photography as it pays to research your locations before arrival so that you can plan your locations and when to turn up. There are some great tools out there to help with this such as the Photographers Ephemeris to predict where the sun will rise and set and Google Earth where you can simulate light throughout the day.

You also need to understand about the quality and direction of light. This is especially useful when you want to capture that perfect portrait. Here you need to be in control by placing your subject in a position which will make best use of the light available. It is all about controlling the direction of light and how it falls on your subject. Ideally you should remove some of the light from above by perhaps placing your subject in a doorway or under the branches of a tree, so that the light hits your subject at a 45 degree angle.

Using top shade to enhance portrait photography

If you learn how to control the light in your photography, this will make you a much better photographer and of course you will be more creative.

If this has inspired you to find out more, I am running some workshops in the new year in the Guildford area to help build knowledge and creativity.

You can find out more at

© Andrew Boschier Photography 2016

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