Saturday, April 12, 2014

Photo Tips for Mom: The quality of light

Introduction: Many writers, especially tech writers, employ the “explain to Mom” trope in a patronizing way, with the implication that “Mom” is a bit dim. This is not the case for my new series. I am writing for my literal mom, who is an intelligent person who happens to be new to photography.

In accordance with Best Practices for Familial Tech Support, Mom is using equipment that I’m familiar with: An Olympus E-PL5 mirrorless camera with two lens kit, VF-3 electronic viewfinder, and Lightroom 5.

The natural tendency of new photographers is to see something beautiful or interesting, and photograph it, with the expectation that a good photograph will result. Often, the result is disappointing, and it’s because the light did nothing to improve the photo.

As a quick rule of thumb, conditions that are good for lying on the beach are bad for photography. A bright sun, high in a clear blue sky, will produce harsh shadows and contribute little interest to a scene. Instead look for the warm, slanted rays of morning:

Fog and mist can, quite literally, add atmosphere to a scene:

Overcast gray skies are rarely an attractive element of a photograph, but the soft light they produce is good for close-ups of plants and flowers:

To emphasize what may be obvious by now, good light to a photographer doesn’t mean “bright, strong light.” We’re not removing a splinter from a finger. The best light, light that adds interest to a photo, is often weak. A tripod may be required, or some steady hand-holding.

As a photographer, pay attention to the quality of light—its color, direction, harshness. The way it interacts with the atmosphere. If there are striking colors and piercing rays as a storm recedes, it’s your chance to pounce! Match the dramatic light to an interesting subject, and you can have an excellent photograph.

I failed at this rule today—when I got up at 7:00 to feed the cats, there was rolling fog and mist, illuminated by the shallow rays of sunrise. But I couldn’t bring myself to stay up. I’ll try to comfort myself with the excuse that good light is fleeting, and by the time I got dressed it and went somewhere, the light have moved on.

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