Light is the one constant all photographs have in stock and something all photographers must learn to work with, though the quality, color, and angle can change quickly.
As photographers, how do we learn to evaluate light not only in terms of quality but our creative goals? The answer is simple – observation.
This means sitting in one spot where you plan to create a photograph and just watch. And answer some simple questions: What is the color of the light? Where is the light coming from in relation to the subject? How does the light play across the scene?
Let’s look at some examples. In image number one taken from the Height of Land looking across Mooselookmeguntic Lake, the color and quality of the light lend to the subject of the photograph, the peaceful beauty of a warm sunset. Would the picture be as effective if there were significant cloud cover and the light were a different color? Certainly not.
Taken from the same site, image two shows a similar view of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. The mid-morning light still is at a relatively low angle creates. This creates an entirely different feel in the image, perhaps not as dramatic as the sunset photograph.
Let’s take a look at the other side of the coin. Clouds can create soft light with entirely different qualities and moods. Taken along the West Branch of the Penobscot River, image three would be nowhere near as good if it had been a bright sunny day. The soft contrast and clouds in the sky result in a stronger mood and reaction from the viewer.
Also, consider the color and angle of light as it relates to photographs. Would the scene in image four be as pleasing if the late day sunlight were behind me? Or does the light from the left, combined with warm color and contrast, add to the strength of the image? The side lighting and color both add to the overall feeling conveyed in the photograph.
Image Five, taken on Sand Beach in Acadia National Park, again shows the impact created by softer side lighting of a different color. The slightly cooler tones and angle of the light create a delicate contrast level and reveal the texture of the rocks along the shoreline. Soft light such as this lends itself to creating black and white images and close-up photography.
Find a spot to sit and watch what happens as the light changes. Return to the same place under different conditions and observe the light again. Then decide what light works best for the scene and the image you want to create. Now go have fun!