To study light. {tips and tricks}

To study light. {tips and tricks}

Did you know that when you trace the word, “photography” back to its Greek origin, it means “light drawing”?

Now that I’ve become much more comfortable with using my camera (aka “computer” – which is essentially what it is), I find that I am fascinated with film photography. I don’t want to be a film photographer (at least not right this minute), but film prints have such a rich range from shadow to highlight and a depth that it seems a lot of us in digital photography are trying to find or reclaim through Photoshop and actions. Film photographers can’t afford to take liberties that we digital photographers do. It’s expensive to buy and develop film. I learned photography (and sometimes still do this) by “spraying and praying” and chimping like a master at the screen on the back of my camera, dissecting why my camera would have chosen that aperture and that ISO and that thing to meter. It’s been a fantastic teacher in the rules, which morphed into how to break the rules when I moved to manual mode two years ago.

So I’m trying to see the light better. What’s available? What does it do? How does it change the color of skin, the mood of the moment, the emotion that you see? Some of my very favorite light lasts for about 15 minutes, if I’m lucky, right before the sun dips behind the mountains. This is what it does in my house.

And P.S. They’re good enough to sit in various spots of the house for me all of the time and at the drop of a hat, so I let them bring props. There’s no telling what they’ll do with them. :)

All photos below were taken on my Canon 5d Mark III using a Canon 50mmL 1.2 lens. Settings for each are noted, as well as the light chasing.

1/200 at 4.0, ISO 800 | Window behind him with direct light to halo hair with high window in front of him to get catchlights in his eyes. Notice the high contrast in his left check but soft light on his right cheek? There’s a white bookshelf on his right side that also acts as a reflector.


1/200 at 4.0, ISO 800 | Yes, my trusty – no longer dusty – yoga mat as subject. :) Direct light on the right, reflective light on the left.



1/200 at 4.0, ISO 800 | Same light as before with him, but he’s standing. The sun has shifted a little and I think that the high contrast has blown out the highlights a bit on his face. But good catchlights in his eyes.



1/80 at 4.0, ISO 800 | He moved closer to the white bookshelf and the direct light had lowered. His catchlights aren’t as prominent, but I LOVE the moodiness of this shot – especially with the shadows under his eyes and his freckles winking through.




1/25 at 4.0, ISO 800 |  I’m getting too low with my shutter speed, but thankfully he stayed very still for me. Same light as above, but with my adjustment in shutter speed, notice the difference in his skin and the lightness of his eyes?



1/320 at 4.0, ISO 1600 | The light was really disappearing at this point, although he managed to look right into it for a second. Woops. :) But it’s getting softer, as there’s not such a harsh line of contrast down his face and you can see the outline of his hair on the right. I added the grain in Lightroom – sometimes, and I can’t believe I’m admitting this, the pictures with my Mark III look too smooth if my exposure is bumped a bit. That’s awesome for a lot of the pictures I take, but for this picture, it took out a lot of the depth I felt was there.



1/320 at 4.0, ISO 1600 | This shot is straight out of the camera with no adjustments. He’s moved back into the light more so that I get a beautiful, soft, sun flare coming in on the right, which also creates a nice contrast in his cheek and a halo of light on his shoulders and hair. Sometimes I find that this makes their ears really red, especially if the sun is more directly behind them. In this case, he mostly looks like he’s bathed in golden light. There’s some chromatic abberation happening in parts of the picture that I don’t like, but I don’t know what to do about that yet other than try to adjust it in post-processing, which I didn’t do here.


1/160 at 4.0, ISO 1600 | Same exact light as above, but he sat down, so we see less of that yummy light and much more even, soft light across him. I changed my shutter speed since I had less light flooding my lens. I still have him facing that small window behind me to get catchlights in his eyes.


1/80 at 13.0, ISO 1600 | Look how low the sun was!


1/800 at 1.2, ISO 1600 | Playing with very soft light, wide open on aperture. Just enough contrast to be creamy and soft.


1/400 at 2.8, ISO 1600 | I’ve read a lot about photographing eggs to see how the light moves. So I did. Same settings on both, less than one minute of time in between. The light goes FAST – notice how the contrast changes.

lightstudy-11 lightstudy-12

Interesting, yes? Go out and experiment!



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