6 Tips for Photographing Light
We can all appreciate the beauty of the unpredictable – and the weather mama earth chooses to bestow upon us with each day is exactly that – unpredictable. Understanding ever-changing conditions and working with what you're given are skills every photographer hopes to hold within their tool belt. After borrowing a friend's camera in Slovenia 5 years ago, Matthew Payne set out to travel over 50 countries and hasn't put the camera down since. We sat down with Matthew for some insider tips to capture light no matter where the course leads.
Time it Right
My absolute favorite time to shoot is in the last hour of daylight. It's a time when the light hits your camera sensor with a softness that no amount of editing can make up for. When shooting in a new location, it's crucial to know where you want to be for the few minutes before the sun breathes its last breath. Research what time the sun will set and time your shots when you can expect light to pour into your frame, hitting the peak of that mountain or spilling into that church.
Find Golden Pockets
While midday light can be harsh, it is often accompanied by the appearance of tiny golden pockets. These pockets can be both aggravating and enchanting to work with, in equal turns, so shoot them often so that you can find ways to use them to your advantage when they find themselves present. When photographed appropriately, they can become an inspiring stage for your subject.
Capture the Differences
There are immeasurable locations around the world that have been photographed repeatedly, and while it's fun to frame a classic, you can feel like you're left with a "me too." The elements that make up that day – the time, the weather, the cloudscape, and the lighting are all unique to you and give you an opportunity to make the shot your own, regardless of how many times it has been photographed.
The challenge for a photographer is to not only see it differently, but to convey that through their image. While you may not be shooting it first, you can certainly shoot it in your own way. The light you capture in your photograph can draw in the viewer's attention, and make them feel differently than they felt looking at another image shot in the same location.
It's Okay to Shoot Into Light (Sometimes)
When I feel the light heating the back of my neck as I frame a subject, it's usually a sign that I'm onto something. Still, I like to experiment with the positioning of my subject to ensure I get the desired shot.
Contrary to some popular belief, shooting directly into the light can yield extraordinary photographs. If you have an object such as a mountain, human subject, or statue (below) in your frame, try positioning it in front of the sun and allowing the light to peek out from behind. Your subject will prevent the sun from glaring fully at the camera, allowing the viewer to enjoy the other elements of the photo.
Your Best Tool? It's Up There
As a photographer, I'd take 365 days of cloud cover over days of continual harsh sunlight. Catching a subject in fog creates a compelling, transient presence, and a thick blanket of cloud helps for an evenly balanced exposure. Each attracts the viewer's eyes further towards your subject, enhancing the colors in the frame.
Many of my most favorite photographs were captured stumbling upon the intersection of research and opportunity. After finding your light, the next step is to fill your frame with life. It's great to have a tool kit, a set up, and the rule of thirds obeyed, but all of this can mean little if used systematically. Expect the unexpected. Expect the passerby to make eye contact. Expect the couple to embrace. Expect the child to run through the frame. You have the ability to capture life in it's most true form and allow it to exist forever in that moment.
Inspired to get out there and capture light? Keep up with Matthew as he continues his travels on Instagram, or check out his site.