Colour and quality of light

There are so many options available today with regards to editing software for your photographs, Lightroom, Photoshop, Serif Affinity Photo, PhaseOne Capture One Pro 8, Adobe Photoshop Elements 13, Corel PaintShop Pro X8, Cyberlink PhotoDirector 6 Ultra and DxO Optics Pro 10 to name just a few. The digital age has made photographers out of all of us, Facebook revealed that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos, and are uploading 350 million new photos each day. To put that into perspective that would mean that each of Facebook's 1.15 billion users have uploaded an average of 217 photos each! That’s a staggering figure, everything from what someone had for lunch to those crazy selphies! I was in Tuscany recently and the amount of younger people strolling around with the selphi sticks was mad, everyone wanted to take an image of themselves, sometimes missing the opportunity to capture the incredible scenery.

However with all this software, in order to take superb photographs, there is one thing that is paramount – LIGHT! Because my profession as a professional wedding, portrait photographer is to take natural photographs, I find that I’m am subconsciously looking at the light and also the colour of that light even when I haven’t got my camera with me, as the colour of the light has a major effect on the photograph.

Quality of Light

Quality of light is one of the biggest considerations a photographer should bear in mind when taking a picture. It's a crucial element in the lighting mix that really determines how your subjects will look—especially if you're taking a portrait. Quality is the term used to explain how "hard" or "soft" a light is. It's nothing to do with the quality of the lighting kit you used to take the photo, because—and here's a little secret—once light has left its source, it's just light! It doesn't matter how expensive the light source that it came from was. Hardness or softness of light is crucial in determining the overall look of your photograph. It's pretty easy to tell the difference between the two kinds of light, and it's important to quickly get to grips with the difference. In general, hard light produces very hard-edged, distinct shadows, while soft light produces much softer shadows. It's all about the transition between the highlighted area to the shadowed part of the photo; if there's a gradual transition, it's usually indicative of soft light, whereas a very hard line is bound to come from hard light. A soft light is often called a diffuse light, where the beams of light tend to bounce around all over the place and fill in any hard shadows, rather than producing the very parallel beams of light that might come from a small or distant light source. The easiest way for a photographer to consider the difference is to think about the relative size of the light source compared to the subject, not the actual size of the source.

For example, on a bright sunny day with no clouds, the light is very hard and produces dark shadows. The light source, the sun, is huge—in fact planet-sized—but it's a long way away, so is relatively small compared to the subject. On a cloudy day, the clouds will diffuse the light to a varying degree. Relative to the subject, they are much larger, and hence the light is softer and more diffuse. A small flashgun, for example, is generally considered to produce a hard light source as it is small. However, if it was placed a few inches above a tiny insect, it would be huge, and therefore would be a soft light source—remember, it relative size that matters. The relative size of the light source is something that often confuses photographers. If you have a flashgun that's very close to a model and you then move it farther away, the light gets harder as its relative size gets smaller. This can be confusing because this light may bounce around off floors and walls and fill in the shadows, giving the false impression it's actually softer. However, in a dark room where the light doesn't bounce around, or outdoors, it would be much harder. So, what use is this for photographers? Soft light is generally much more flattering —wrinkles on a person's face tend to get filled in with light, rather than appearing as deep creases with dark shadows, so soft light is often used for flattering portraits. But hard light has its uses too; it's more dramatic, and gives harder-edged shadows that work well if you're photographing men, for example.

With this beautiful reportage photograph of this little lady, I moved around until the light was perfect, a touch of bounced flash was used in the direction of the natural light coming through the window just to lift the skin tones but keep the beautiful ambient light source.

So why not start thinking more about the quality of light when taking those photographs, become aware of the light, the colour and the direction of the light source, you will be amazed at the difference this little trick will make to your photographs, yes even those selphies!!