Natural light is beautiful light
If you’re a lover of natural light when creating photographs, then you’re like me – you love light. You love how it streams in windows and how it creates shadows. There’s so much wonder in the way light naturally falls into place. In many situations, it’s amazing to let nature take its course and create a beautiful view.
The reality is, however, while we can always go with the flow, sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with the requirements of human life. There are times when Mother Nature gives you way too much light.
So the question becomes, “How do I deal with all this light?”
Let’s look at some real-world scenarios and discuss solutions to deal with too much light in photography.
Scenario #1: Intense light streaming through a window
As someone who often shoots interior design photographs for a magazine, I run into this situation all the time. I arrive at a house to find big beautiful windows casting a lovely soft light on a part of the room and a bright glare in areas close to the window. We usually use HDR to solve this issue. There are times, however, when you can’t set up a tripod as space does not allow this kind of luxury.
In the situation below, the restaurant had amazing, huge windows. It allowed much light into the room – great for those who were dining. The situation was not-so-great for photographing clear, detailed images. If you take a look at the photograph below, shot during a family event, you can see how bright windows can affect your images in a more personal situation.
In this scenario, the bright light from the big windows behind the display detracts from the cake and the sign. The sign is in shadow if you expose the photograph to reduce the brightness of the background. If you expose for the sign, then the light behind becomes very distracting and detracts from the look of the photograph.
The final composition
In this case, the solution was to use the items being photographed to block out some of the light from behind. I changed the angle from which I was shooting and tried to fill the frame with the items from the display table. Now the photograph is exposed correctly, and have a more attractive memory of a family occasion.
Scenario #2: Bright afternoon sunshine and you can’t move people into the shade
At family outings or special occasions, it can be difficult to get people to move. You have to deal with the shadows and squinting that the intense summer sun creates. And what if you don’t have a flash?
Last summer, I shot photographs and wrote an article about building birch bark canoes using traditional Indigenous methods. There’s no way I could ask the Elder working on the canoe to move his whole operation into a place to allow me to take nicer photographs of him. He was working, and he was not going to move everything for me.
Adapting to a situation is important
As you can see in the photograph below, the sun was quite bright, and I didn’t have a flash. He was wearing a white shirt, and his skin is darker, so there’s a challenge when exposing for this type of dynamic range. The color photograph is relatively flat. It doesn’t have the type of depth, or look I like to have for my images.
From an art standpoint, this image would never work. From a journalist standpoint, they are less picky about these types of issues, but there had to be a balance. The editor of the article, however, did agree that the bright light did take away from the photograph. Our solution was to post-process using black and white. The advantage of black and white is it allows you to hide washed-out colors and lessens the effect of blown-out whites. It is an option to consider when working in such harsh lighting conditions.
Scenario #3: Intense spots of light
In some situations, the light is just right in parts of a scene, but in others, it’s just too bright. It creates glares and reflections you don’t want in your photographs.
In this situation, you could once again use HDR. There are some other options to consider, as well. Consider using a flash to fill in shadows created when you balance out the lighting. In the situation below a flash and a diffuser were used to create more even lighting. The hanging lights are still bright, but unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done about those. The only way to minimize their distraction was to have the woman active. The viewer will notice that the woman is pouring the wine, and it helps to keep them focused on something other than the bright lights in the scene.
In some cases, you may have to accept defeat when it comes to light. However, you can take steps to minimize the influence the lights can have on your photograph.
Light is both a blessing and a challenge when your taking photographs. Sometimes you will have to think quickly. You will need to find ways to problem solve and manage the lighting effectively. There are lots of ways to create photographs, even in the most difficult situations, so try to think carefully about the scene before you. Try to be creative when managing challenging situations.
Please, by all means, share your toughest lighting situations and how you were able to deal with too much light in photography in the comments below.