There is no such thing as bad light, there is just light. Take advantage of every situation.
Photography is all about the light. In fact, if there is no light hitting the sensor, there is no photo. Different times of the day, or weather conditions, can create different moods and situations. As you probably know, you can achieve amazing and compelling results by shooting in the early morning, or from late afternoon well into twilight. This is known as the golden hour and the blue hour, respectively.
However, there is no such thing as good light or bad light, there is just light. It is not always possible to shoot under ideal conditions, especially when traveling. Yes, you can wake up early; yes, you can skip dinner or eat it later. But what are you going to do the rest of the day or if there is bad weather? If anything, when you are on tour, chances are you’ll be wandering around at midday, in overcast conditions or even in the rain. Here are some tips and examples you can follow to make the most of the situation under any kind of weather or light conditions.
Tips for using any kind of light to make great photos
High sun, midday light
In most cases you’ll be out exploring places during the daytime under midday light. This is not an ideal situation. Direct, harsh sunlight creates hard shadows that are not very flattering. Taking portraits of locals is one of the best ways to capture the essence of places; if you’re going after this, you can try to move your subject into the shade. If they are wearing a hat, you can also position them in a way where their face is under the brim. The key for this is to come close enough to the person and compose your shot right into them. Alternatively, use an off-camera flash to fill the shadows and compensate for the brightness in your background.
If you are looking for street scenes or iconic locations, you can always use the hard shadows created by the direct sunlight to your benefit and arrange the image in a way that helps to create a compelling composition. You may have to wait for the right moment, waiting for someone to walk into your scene or simply using the shadow element intentionally as part of your photograph.
Clouds in the sky, overcast light
Granted, this is not an ideal situation either; however, there is much you can do. In this case, contrary to the high sun, you have a very soft light. This is great for shooting portraits. The light will be even and very soft; throw in some stormy clouds and the effect could be very dramatic. Again, get close to your subject.
Another technique is to avoid the sky. Look for locations and activities for which the sky is not an important element and simply avoid shooting it. A good example for this is local markets or similar indoor activities. By the way, local markets are fun to shoot, and moreover, they’re an excellent way to connect to and experience local culture.
Nevertheless, you can also work with landscape and exterior photos during these conditions. In fact, there are some places where it’s almost impossible to avoid. Due to local weather characteristics you may find that during certain seasonal periods you’ll encounter misty mornings, stormy afternoons, and so on. Go ahead and shoot it. What better way to capture a region the way you see it, the way you feel it?
This is the time when most photographers stay inside, but I’d strongly suggest you get out there. It can seem a little bit scary, we tend to overprotect our gear, but with some preparation there is nothing to fear and you’ll get fantastic results. When it starts to rain, good photographers head outside. Downpours bring life, a different look; in certain cases, some areas are just magical in the rain. Think about shooting reflections, ponds, and playing with water drops. The possibilities are endless and you’ll definitely love it.
As you can see, good light, bad light, is just a myth. There are certainly ideal situations where you can achieve exceptional photos, but it is not always possible to be out during perfect circumstances. So go ahead and take advantage of every condition, try to think how you can leverage and play it to your convenience. In the end, photography is fun, and great images can be obtained under almost any condition.