Garry Black Photography

Tips and Techniques



Designing picture space, arranging the visual elements and composing, considering the tones within an image. These terms sound very analytical and not well suited to creative expression. They are not what I am consciously thinking about when I am making a photograph, but I use them in every photograph I make, for without them, good visual design is impossible.
These two photographs of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, demonstrate the effects that are created by the quality of light on the same subject. The mood that is created as a result of the lighting, in each of the photographs affects the way in which we interpret and respond to each of the scenes. These photographs illustrate just how light changes the appearance of shape, line, texture, colour and contrasts. Both clearly show the importance of using light as a tool in creative photography.   Photography is about light, and the effects that it creates. Light gives form by creating contrast: contrast of tones and contrast of colour. Form is made up of the shapes, lines, size, direction, and textures that have been created by these contrasts. These are the visual elements of design which are used in all the two-

dimensional visual arts.

A well-designed photograph depends on the organization of all the elements in the scene, which then will clearly define the purpose of the photograph. What you choose to be your subject and how you design your picture is entirely influenced by your vision. On workshops, I am always amazed at the variety of the

students work that is produced on our field trips. The originality of their work, as in your own, is a product of all your experiences and knowledge, and your response to the subject. Your vision of that subject is unique to you. The camera position, technique and the photo tools that you use determine how you organize the information in the photo.

Nothing in photography is more important than light. It determines how your subject matter will appear in a photographic image. How you use the light in your photographs is part of your photographic style. Having an appreciation for the qualities of light will enable you to use it effectively in making creative photographs.

The quality of light refers to the light source, the direction of the light and its colour. The light can be hard, as it is in direct sunlight on a cloudless day, or soft and diffused as in an overcast day.

Hard or direct lighting increases contrast and form. This is a result of more sharply defined edges, and the creation of highlights and shadows. Depending on the direction of the light, texture and the illusion of depth in the picture space may be enhanced or diminished. Soft or diffused light is what is referred to as "flat" lighting. This is because the scene or the subject is illuminated evenly, and provides for a subtler rendering of contrast, colour, form and texture.

Another characteristic of light is direction. Diffused light is indirect, appearing to come from every direction. The soft quality of this light produces little or no shadow at all. The direction of hard or direct sunlight is dependent on the angle of the sun in the sky, and your camera position in relation to your subject. Many combinations are possible, however it is best to limit the discussion to the three basic directions: front, side and back lighting.

Front lighting is what the camera and film manufacturers once recommended for the best photography. This is when the sun is kept over your shoulder and shining directly onto your subject. This is probably the least effective use of direct sunlight as it reveals little in the way of form and texture. The illusion of depth in the photograph will also be reduced, because of the absence of shadows.

When the light source is at right angles to the camera viewpoint, one can take advantage of side lighting. With this angled light, a strong contrast is created between the sunlit areas and the shadows, which helps give the illusion of depth to the photograph. This is the most effective light for revealing textures and form.

Back lighting occurs when the light source originates from behind your subject. Shooting towards the sun like this will give you photographs that are bold and visually dramatic. Exposure and composition are very difficult with this lighting, as it is hard to previsualize how the film will record the shadow and the highlight areas. If the highlight areas are properly exposed for, then the detail in the shadows will be greatly reduced (blocked up). On the other hand, if the exposure is made for the shadows, then the highlight areas will become overexposed (washed out). The high contrast and the extreme tonal range of back lighting create sharply defined edges. These delineate the outline of shapes; rim lighting and silhouettes are examples of this.

The colour quality of light is a variable as well. The colour of the light that you see or that you perceive, may not be the colour that the film records. When the sun is low in the sky, as in early morning or just before sunset, the colour of the light is warm, yellow-orange. During the day the colour of the light is cooler, this is the colour that people perceive to see most of the time. On an overcast day the light has a distinct blue cast. Some photographers use an 81A-warming filter to correct the colour balance, so the scene will appear, as it was perceived to be. Colour has significant influence in creating mood and in determining our emotional response.

There is no single quality of light which should be considered as being perfect for all subjects. Don't make rules that will limit you to making photographs of a subject in a certain light. Experiment; try photographing familiar subjects under different lighting conditions. It is through trying these new approaches that you will achieve a better understanding of light and this will enable you to use it as a creative tool for visual expression.