Home Tips & Techniques Concepts Quality of Light
Sunday, 23 November 2014


DanBeauvais.com News Feeds

Receive automatic news feeds by clicking the RSS icon
Click to visit PHOTO GALLERY
Quality of Light PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 November 2010 17:20

"Quality of light" is a term I've used in two recent conversations.  One use, with one of my early photographic mentors, went without question, completely understood by both parties.    Another, sent the conversation off on a puzzling tangent about the benefits and drawbacks of living in our remote edge of the earth, the Outer Banks.  It was only later that I realized that she misheard my saying "quality of light" as "quality of life."

Sun rising thru fog in the SmokiesLike "quality of life", the term "quality of light" can be used in both a positive or negative way.  But photographers usually use the term in its positive context, describing light that flatters our subject.

Depending on the subject, the most desirable qualities vary.  Light can be hard and direct, casting deep contrasty shadows.  Or it can be soft and indirect, wrapping light around our subject, filling shadows.  A portrait photographer may prefer harder light to show the character lines of a wizened elderly man, or the soft light to complement the soft features of an innocent girl.  The portrait photographer may use unmodified light from his flash units to get direct light.  He may limit the spread of the light with a honeycomb attachment called a "snoot."  Or he may purposely soften the light by directing it through a diffuser, or bounding it off a soft reflector.

In the outdoors, photographers are much more at the mercy of nature and the environment.

In the sun under a clear midday sky, the light will be hard and directional, casting hard shadows.  If the sky is hazy or softly overcast, shadows are cast, but softened by reflections off the moisture in the atmosphere.  If completely overcast, the light appears to come from all of the sky, making the lighting nearly shadowless, with all the atmospheric reflections filling any shadows from the weakened direct lighting.  All are qualities of light.

In clear air, the sky is blue and there's detail in the foreground and off toward infinity.  In fog, the level of detail drops with distance.  Very different effects.  Which is right?  What is the effect you are after?

Light also has direction.  If light skims across a surface, it emphasizes the texture of the surface by creating numerous highlights and shadows.  It the light is 90 degrees from the surface, such as at high noon over a plain, the only shadows are from items that reach up from the plain at an angle different from that of the sun.  Texture is minimized.

Early or late in the day, the sun cuts tangentially through the atmosphere, and the high frequency bluish components of the white sunlight are filtered out, leaving noticeably warmer colors of red, orange, and yellow. At midday, there is less atmospheric filtering due to the direct and shorter path through the atmosphere.  The color is noticeably bluer.  The colors of the light, and the colors reflected off the objects we see, are qualities of light.

A glance through the images in Outdoor Photographer or a similar magazine, typically portray landscapes being glanced by golden sunlight at the beginning or the end of the day.  The "quality of light" differentiates these images from the more mundane shots made in the harsher light of midday.  The favorable quality of light invoke favorable responses to the image.  Outdoor photographers are in place before the sun rises, and eat very late dinners, all to get that low golden quality of light.

When a photographer gushes about the quality of light, he has found the conditions that flatter the subject in the way he wants to portray it.  That could be hard or soft, low or high angle, warm or cool.  The quality of the light is open to your interpretation.

Click the photo for more info.


Last Updated on Monday, 30 May 2011 13:24
Copyright © 2014 Dan Beauvais - photography --- DanBeauvais.com and OuterBanksImages.com. All Rights Reserved.