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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
Making Neveria Alicia PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 08 September 2009 21:39

Photograph: Neveria Alicia 1253 by Daniel J BeauvaisHere's a fun way to create a tasteful interpretation of a photograph, requiring some moderate Photoshop skills.

This photograph of an ice cream parlor on Isla Mujeres, off the shore of Cancun, uses a combination of two effects to achieve the final image.  Here's the basics of how I did it.

Layers used to make Neveria Alicia photographIn Photoshop, I copied the original background photo onto two additional layers, and labeled them "Watercolor look" and "Line drawing."  (See the Photoshop screenshots)

I selected the "Watercolor look" layer, and temporarily turned off the visibility of the other two layers.  I applied Topaz Adjust plug in filter, tweaking the controls until I found a pleasing smooth painterly effect  You may find that some of the standard Photoshop filters may give you another pleasant effect.

I then selected the "Line drawing" layer, and temporarily turned off the visibility of the other two layers.  At this point, it looked like the original photo.  I applied the "Find Edges" filter (Filter > Stylize > Find Edges), getting a colorful line drawing.  To turn the line drawing to black, I used Image > Adjustments > Black & White.

To put it all together, I restored the visibility of the "Watercolor look" layer, then changed the blending mode of the "Line drawing" layer to "Darken."  In this way, the "Watercolor look" layer showed thru except where the "Line drawing" layer had dark lines.  I saved the result.

Hint:  If you try this technique, and you may find that the line drawing is not bold enough.  If so, select the "Line drawing" layer, apply some Gaussian Blur to it (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) to fatten-up the lines.  Use Levels (PC: Ctrl-L, Mac: Command-L) to keep just the darkest parts of the fat lines.

I used Photoshop CS4 and Topaz Adjust 3, however, any recent version of these programs will suffice.

Give this idea a try with some of your own photos, and have fun!

Prints and gifts containing this image are available in my gallery.


Last Updated on Thursday, 25 November 2010 16:44
Most Valuable Photo Accessory PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 10 June 2009 22:47

Mother and sons searching for seashells at sunrise on Pensacola BeachI added one simple item to my photo gear that doubled the number of keepers I get when shooting in golden light.  Without this item, fully half of all available golden light was not visible to me.  The best part is, that the least expensive of these items is as effective as the most expensive.  If I should forget to bring this item when I travel, a replacement is available at almost any store, but there's most likely a very serviceable one in my hotel room.  I can even substitute my cell phone for this photo accessory.  A few people don't need this, but I, and most others do.  The item?  My alarm clock!

Closely related is my 5AM filter.

Thanks to Boston-area photographer Jacob Mosser (http://www.psaphoto.org/gallery/mosser.htm) for the clock quip, and Hatteras Island photographer Scott Geib (http://www.lightkeepergallery.com/) for the 5AM barb.

A larger view of this image, and print and gifts are available at here.

Last Updated on Friday, 26 November 2010 11:56

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