Photo Notes

October 12, 2009

Natural?? Light

Taken with both continuousl light and strobes. Link to an article about the Tools of Light

Taken with both continuousl light and strobes. Link to an article about the Tools of Light

I’ve seen a lot of photographers, and some of talented armatures talk about natural light. So maybe I should too. I hate the term natural light, simply because in our culture natural is always good and artificial is always bad. When was the last time you saw a product advertised as NEW! Now with More Artificial Ingredients!! So my first problem is that when someone speaks of natural light they are making a value judgment about light sources. Second, people aren’t always consistent about the term; really natural light ought to be used to describe sunlight, moonlight, starlight, and less useful things like molten lava and the back end of lightning bugs. If you use only natural light you are not going to take any pictures more than a few minutes after sundown or, if indoors, never very far from a window. Of course this limits the pictures that you take. Many people seems to include, in their use of the term natural light, any light source that happened to be there, including such poor quality light sources as fluorescent light and sodium vapor light. I would prefer terms like existing light and ambient light or even found light. We could call the light we make for a shot created light or controlled light, or even perfected light.

I think that the real problem that people have with making light is between continuous light sources, like quartz lights, and instantaneous light sources like strobes. There is no question that it is more difficult to place and modify lights that you can’t see. So often photographers are confused because the shot they see has no relationship, or little resemblance, to the shot they took with the camera strobe. Of course the reason is that the strobe was in a place no light came from, and had a quality of light that wasn’t present the moment before you took the image. It’s as if you switched off all the lights and put a spotlight on your head. So if you are going to get strobe to work for you, you need to learn take control of the way the light works. It isn’t the fault of the light, and it isn’t because the light is instantaneous the problem exists because the photographer expects the strobe to work by magic. Instead the photographer must understand how light can be controlled and used. Then we will make better images because we can control the light.

I should also mention that while you can do things with continuous lights, there are problems that only strobes can solve. Strobes are much brighter than other sources, many strobes are brighter than daylight, so you can control a mixed light environment. Also strobes have a true daylight color balance, so they are easier to use with daylight. Strobes are smaller and lighter than continuous lights with equivalent power would be, and they consume less power.

Link to an article about one light portraits.

Link to an article about one light portraits.

1 Comment

  1. This was novel. I wish I could read every post, but i have to go back to work now… But I’ll return.

    Comment by Lauren — June 27, 2011 @ 8:45 am

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