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As we all know, light is a key component of taking amazing photographs. Some will tell you that sunshine at certain times of the day is bad, some will swear by capturing the light the best way you can. Others will only use artificial, controllable light for perfect results. Personally, I think light is light. It is your friend and everyone has their style of photography so use it to the best of your ability. So let's take a look at some of the main types of natural light you will be shooting in at different times of the day.
The Golden Hour
This is referring to the time of day when the sun is at its weakest and a less harsh position in the sky. Many prefer or live by the rule that all photos must be taken in the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. I won’t lie, I love the effect that golden hour light has on colors and can make the skin of your subject glow. But I have also taken some great photos in the bright afternoon sun and loved them. Don’t limit yourself to just two hours of picture taking in the day. Experiment with other times and just get better at what you do.
Although the picture above has an old photo edit on it, you can still see how the evening sun makes the subjects glow. It gives the photo a softer and more sentimental feel. Both of these were taken on mostly sunny days, few clouds in the sky between the hours of 7 and 8 o’clock.
Bright Midday Sun
Once people pass that golden hour opportunity, they feel that there can be no more pictures until the next one comes around. If you can fit the amount of light present into the mood of the photo, people will get it. I will agree that engagement pictures or even family photos can look their best when taken in the softer light. But if you shoot in harsh midday light, if you can use white foam boards to reflect the sunlight onto your subject and erase the shadows on their face, you are good. Just watch the shadows. However, if you are trying to take a shot of a harsher subject, the direct light and some shadows have a mean, macho effect.
Many times you can use this to create the mood about the photo, tell more of a story. Sepia tones or black and whites can really accentuate the drama of the shadows to create spectacular pictures that look amazing on your walls.
Backlighting is when the light is behind your subject. It can cast the people into complete shadow or can even have an eclipse effect where part is lit and part is silhouetted. Again, it is creating the mood of the photo. This can create a romantic look, a mysterious or even sensual appearance, or just captures the essence of the action going on at the moment. Details are not always as important as the action.
Although the sun was very high in the sky, having it reflect off of the water provided the backlighting that makes this photo awesome. Without it, or even on a cloudy day, it would have been less dramatic and not as much fun.
Overcast and Dim Light
Cloudy days are actually amazing for photography. The filtering of the sun will bring colors to life that the sunshine will “bleach” out because it is so harsh. You can capture some wonderful contrasting colors when the sun isn’t beaming down on the scenery. These conditions are also prime for photographing moving water, adjusting the shutter and ISO to create the effect you want. You can see a mist form over the water in your photo the longer you keep the shutter open.
Both pictures are magical and both were taken with no sunlight. If it fits the mood, take the picture. If you want bold colors, go out when it is really cloudy.
There are some spectacular moments you can freeze forever in a photo as the sun is going down or coming up. I love to try to see new elements every time I take a photo of the sun. My favorite is when there is just enough smoke or haze in the sky to really develop the colors that would normally be very pale in comparison. Some think that shots at this time of day are very cliché, but I think they are ways to get people’s attention as to the beauty of the world around them. There is nothing like staring in awe of a grand sunset.
Both of these were taken as the sun was disappearing and both are stunning examples of how the light of the early night can enhance your photo to create a sense of calm, of longing to be watching it in person.
Lasso the Light
Regardless of what you might have heard there are beautiful pictures waiting out there to be taken. Don’t be afraid to practice until you find your best approach. In time you will know by looking at something whether or not it will be art. Soon, you will have your own gallery going, photos on the walls, murals of favorite places, and people will want a copy of what they see. Love what you do and it will reflect in your work.