I have a confession to make: I’m a recovering light snob. I spent so many years learning how to see good light, that when I would see “bad” light, I wouldn’t even take out my camera. I’d scoff at the people around me taking shots, thinking “Oh, they don’t know how bad the light is”.
What a fool I was!
Once I took off my snob glasses, it was like I could finally see clearly. I realized that there is no such thing as bad light in photography. All light is awesome – it’s what allows us to create photos! As photographers, we should be grateful for light in any shape or form.
All light is awesome – it’s what allows us to create photos! As photographers, we should be grateful for light in any shape or form.
Now don’t get me wrong – different types of light are better suited for different types of photos. No matter how positively you think about it, looking directly into bright, harsh sunlight will still make people look squinty and shiny, with unflattering shadows.
So getting rid of light snobbery isn’t just about thinking positive. It’s about appreciating all light, and then finding ways to make any situation work for you.
Because you know what? Your photos not just about the light. They’re about capturing that super interesting thing you’re standing in front of. That fleeting moment that you’re enjoying. The light is just one piece of the equation.
To combat light snobbery I’ve developed a patented three step process called…drumroll please…..
“The Light Snobbery Elimination Sequence!!!!”
Awesome name, right? Here it is, in all it’s glory:
The Light Snobbery Elimination Sequence!!!!
Step 1: Assess the Light
Take off your snob glasses and look at the light around you. Look really carefully. If it’s perfect then snap away! But it’s more likely that the light is less than ideal. So look closely to assess the details of the light. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are there multiple light sources? (E.g. Sunlight and artificial lights)
- What direction is the light coming from?
- Is the light soft? Is it harsh?
- What are the shadows like?
- What colour temperature is the light?
Step 2: Attempt to Modify
Once you’ve determined what the light is like, you can try to modify it. You have a lot of techniques at your disposal to make the best of any lighting situation. Here are some things to try:
- Take light away: If you have multiple light sources, try reducing it to just one. For example, turn off the artificial lights in the room, and work only with window light. Using just one light source can make a huge difference (and it also makes white balancing much easier afterwards).
- Add more light: You can also add more light to the situation. Open up windows. Turn on a lamp. Pull out your flash. Heck, use your iPhone. Get creative.
- Modify the light: Try opening the curtains more, or adjusting the shades. Move the lamp. Use a reflector (or a big piece of white poster paper if you don’t have a reflector). Add a coloured gel to your flash. There are tons of ways to modify light that can make it work better for your shot!
- Move your subject: If possible, move your subject somewhere with better light, or to get a better angle for the light you have.
- Move yourself: If you can’t move your subject, try moving yourself. Walk around, and see how different the light is depending on where you stand.
And if all of those things fail, and the light still isn’t very good…
Step 3: Take the photo anyway!
Even if you’ve tried it all, and you still don’t like the light, take the photo anyway! You won’t get a chance to capture that moment again. It will be gone forever. And in 20 years, will you care more about preserving that memory, or getting perfect light? For 99.9% of situations, my money is on the memory.
Remember, light is amazing, in all it’s forms. And any situation can result in wonderful photos – you just need the right attitude. So get over your light snobbery, and embrace light. Make all types work for you. Add more light, take it away, modify, move. Or just take the photo anyway. You won’t regret it.
Oh, and the photo at the top of this post? I took that recently on a trip to Summerland, British Columbia. For a second I thought “Oh, this light isn’t ideal. The sky is pretty blown, and it looks hazy. It won’t make for a very good photo.” But instead of just passing by, I pulled out my camera and took a shot anyway. And now I’m so glad I did. The photo isn’t going to win any awards, but it reminds me of that trip, and the beautiful landscape I got to enjoy. Well worth the effort.