Remain in Light

Photographs are a way of capturing light.  Good photographs are often due in part to good lighting.  Conversely, poor lighting can undermine or even ruin an otherwise good photo. Now, I’ve developed a reputation as a pretty good photographer among friends and co-workers.  Unfortunately, they think this means I can just take pictures whenever/wherever I want and get good results.

The “wherever” generally includes places like windowless interior rooms lit only by cheap flourescent tubes, bright sunlight, randomly changing stage lighting, and other extremely difficult conditions.  In such a situation, lighting is often the enemy. Color casts, too much contrast, not enough contrast, not enough light period, and other difficulties can make it difficult to capture good images. It’s hard to make things look good when the light makes them look bad. Worse, cameras see things (like color casts) that our eyes and brain ignore.

At a recent wedding, I got a number of nicely lit images in dappled shade, despite a harsh afternoon sun.  Some people were surprised I was using flash outdoors, especially when I’m notorious for not using flash at all (fill flash is your friend!).  But worst of all, I saw a couple bring their children out of the shade and into the nice, bright sunlight to get photos with their little point and shoot.  I considered telling them that they should do that in the shade, but just felt too embarrassed by the whole thing.  I don’t know whether I did the right thing or not, but I think it’s safe to say that they did NOT get the best possible photos of their children.

Later, at the same wedding, I took a photo I rather liked of three men together.  They were relaxed, laughing, and blissfully unaware they were about to get photographed.  The photo is charming and marred with severe technical problems (including a sensor reflection from a bright window in the background). They didn’t like it, and then asked me to take another, dutifully posing in the stiff, self-conscious way that people get when they’re about to get their picture taken.  I didn’t like those photos at all.

I suppose the problem here is social rather than technical.  How does one explain, with a minimum of awkwardness all around, how to take good photos?  How do we tell other photographers what to do, or tell people who want photos taken that their ideas won’t look good?


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