Sunny-side Up

4 Rules of Lighting and the Outdoors Photographer

One of the great aspects of lighting in photography is that it doesn’t work the same for everyone all the time.  There are general guide rules of lighting, but the solutions to making a photographic shot better are not always so cut and dry.  Some typical rules include:

  1. The closer the light source the harder the light and vice versa.
  2. The larger the light source the softer the light  and vice versa.
  3. Sunlight is always hard light unless in the shade.
  4. A flash will always give you a hard light unless you diffuse it or bounce it on the subject with a reflector.

Those rules are pretty easy to live with and with a little imagination you begin to see possibilities that will improve your photography.  However, sometimes the situation you find yourself in is not so forgiving.

Let’s say you are a photographer faced with the task of photographing the lions of the Serengeti.   Your only solutions to controlling the hard sun light is to use filters, the time of day, and possibly something in your environment to help you create some shade.   It’s not always possible, nor advisable to drag your entire studio with you.

Indeed, outdoor photography has it’s own lighting challenges in that you can’t always ask a subject to help you with the shot.  Flashing a strobe light in the face of a large bull will result in a great action photograph but probably not the kind you were hoping for.  Further, location is an issue also.  I know of a tree that, when in bloom, is gorgeous and has not one but two distinct colors of the flowers.  The problem?  The two angles to capture the shot with the best lighting are either in the middle of a busy 2 lane road or standing on active train tracks.  I can’t move the sun, and I can’t move the tree.  Yes, solutions to this problem exist, but none of them are particularly easy or inexpensive to do.

Weather can also play a factor in your lighting plans also. I had a photography instructor who swore that the best weather to take pictures on was an overcast grey day.  The light would be diffused by the clouds and he instructed us to use those clouds as our grey cards to find our neutral grey.

In a way, challenges to correct the lighting or sometimes even getting the lighting outdoors to do what you want is what make this form of photography fun.  The lighting found outdoors constantly create opportunities of creative thinking and doing things  “outside the box.”

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