Nikon Know-how

In the first of a new se­ries, Michael Free­man ex­plains how you can work cre­atively with nat­u­ral il­lu­mi­na­tion even when you have no ap­par­ent con­trol over the light

NPhoto - - Contents -

It’s easy to fo­cus on the sub­ject alone, but light is crit­i­cal to pho­tog­ra­phy. Michael Free­man shows you what to look for in nat­u­ral light, and how to make the most of way its an­gle and colour changes through­out the day – and into the night

I’m not the first per­son to say that the qual­ity of light can make or break a shot, and it might be a cliché of pho­tog­ra­phy, but it also hap­pens to be true. Un­less you have a sub­ject in front of you that is so amaz­ing that it wouldn’t mat­ter what light it was shot in, the one thing you can do to im­prove a pho­to­graph is to make sure it’s at­trac­tively or ex­cit­ingly lit. That in turn means de­vel­op­ing a sense of light­ing – a con­scious ap­pre­ci­a­tion of it – and de­vel­op­ing that sense to the point where you know why the light­ing is the way it is.

When I’m shoot­ing out­doors in un­pre­dictable cir­cum­stances, I try to keep in my mind a sort of scale of the im­por­tance of the light in front of me. At the lower end of the scale the light is just there. It doesn’t mat­ter, I can work with that, but at cer­tain times of day, in par­tic­u­lar weather and con­fig­u­ra­tions of street and build­ings, the light starts to take over. It im­poses it­self on the scene and there­fore on the im­age. At the very top of the scale, the shot is all about the light ef­fects, and the sub­ject can be com­pletely or­di­nary. Aus­tralian Mag­num pho­tog­ra­pher Trent Parke works con­sis­tently at the top read­ings of this no­tional light barom­e­ter, and prob­a­bly speaks for the hard core of light ob­ses­sives when he writes “I am for­ever chas­ing light. Light turns the or­di­nary into the mag­i­cal.”

This month we’ll take a look at de­vel­op­ing a feel­ing for light and mak­ing it a pri­or­ity most of the time, but also at how to achieve re­sults prac­ti­cally. Af­ter all, it’s easy to be smug about a stun­ning shaft of storm­light that you were lucky enough to be in for a cru­cial view, but what do you do when the light­ing is less spe­cial and yet you still need to shoot? It calls for a two-handed ap­proach to light­ing. One is to have an idea of what light­ing might best suit your sub­ject, then wait it out or re­turn another time. The other is to shift gears and look for sub­jects that the light you’re un­der is good for. All light can be very good for some­thing. Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Galen Row­ell wrote: “I search for per­fect light, then hunt for some­thing earth­bound to match it with.” It also works with less-than-per­fect light – see op­po­site.

Mount Kailash seen from a view­point at over 5,000 me­tres, where the air is very thin. This,

com­bined with the use of a po­lar­is­ing fil­ter,

has re­sulted in a stark, high-con­trast im­age

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