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The Importance of Light

Light is so basic and important to photography that the word itself - “photography” - comes from the Greek word for light, which is “phos.”

Light is essential to most types of life on earth, and does many other things for us such as enabling us to see colours and shapes – and without it, photography couldn’t exist!

Colour Temperature

The term colour temperature is a way to describe the colour of a light source, by relating it to a reference source heated to a specific temperature in Kelvin units.

Generally, light sources below 3,200 on the Kelvin scale are described as warm, and sources above 4,000 Kelvin are said to appear cool.

Thus, we can describe light as warm or cool based on this colour temperature measurement.

Light - Daylight

The best light source for most photography is daylight. This natural light source provides a well-balanced colour spectrum that is ideal for most purposes.

There are colour variations in natural light; for example, an overcast area will look more blue, whereas direct sunlight is a redder light. This is why you’ll see something called white balance in your digital camera settings.

White balance tells the camera what temperature the light is, and how to automatically make any needed adjustments for you. Both manual and automatic modes are available, so you can set the white balance yourself or let the camera make the decision for you.

Direct Sunlight

Although sunlight is a great light source, it’s important to be cautious when using bright direct sunlight for your photography. This is particularly the case during midday when the sun is at its highest and most direct.

This type of strong direct lighting will create excessively high level of contrast in you photos, such that shadows may come out very dark or even black, obscuring any detail, and light areas may be blown out and indistinct as well.

One fairly simple solution is to use a reflector or a flash to provide light to the shadowed areas – especially if you’re taking pictures of people’s faces and want a great balance without overly darkened features.

Indirect Sunlight

Indirect sunlight is the ideal light for all photographs, because the clear, balanced light flatters nearly every subject.

Many amateur photographers make the mistake of believing that an overcast sky is not good lighting for shooting. In actuality, a bright overcast sky provides a very valuable diffused light that can provide a high-quality environment for a photographer. Take some pictures in this kind of light and surprise yourself with the excellent colour quality and soft shadows that result.

Sunrise and Sunset

The light at sunrise and sunset can help a photographer create stunning images. Capture dramatic landscapes and other outdoor scenes unlike those of any other time of day.

Sunrise and sunset produce natural light in warm red and yellow tones, which add richness not available from daylight.

Sources of Light - Artificial Light