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Two lighting conditions that will make your images stand out

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  • Probably the biggest challenge aspiring photographers face today is to create work that stands out - especially when it comes to documentary photography. One of the best ways to give your work an inherent advantage is to learn how to recognize unique lighting conditions that other photographers tend to overlook.

    Screen Shot 2017 02 18 at 12.22.49 copy

    It's for that reason that I often find myself going to extreme lengths to photograph in what I find to be ‘the best lighting conditions’ out there. In this blog post, I will share with you two of my favorite lighting conditions: The twilight of a setting sun and the darkest corners of a house.

    If you take the time to learn how to find the best versions of these lighting conditions and how to take full advantage of them, they will definitely bring your photographic style to a whole new level.

    So let’s begin…


    How to find it:
    While many professional photographers rightfully recommend working during what is known as the “Magic Hour” (often defined as the first and last hours of daylight). The twilight appears only during the first or last 5-10 minutes of these so-called “Magic Hours”. For example: during the sunset, the twilight will appear only when the sunset is almost over; when it feels as if the moon and the sun are fighting over the skyline.

    Why use this light:
    I love using this light because even though it gives the same distinct contrast a sunset or sunrise would, the twilight is also extremely soft, allowing your viewers to see more details in the shadows.

    More importantly, and this is where the twilight works its magic, as your camera's sensor struggles to ‘read’ the available light, you will notice certain colors sneak into your images - usually soft blues, purples or reds, depending on the skyline at that moment. This will grant your image a natural leading tone, which is different from how the human eye is used to seeing a sunset/sunrise, thus presenting your images in an almost “new light” to your viewers.

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    Keep in Mind:
    Many of my favorite photographs were made during these fleeting moments of the twilight, as it provides truly magical lighting conditions, but you should also remember that it is highly elusive.

    If you are planning to photograph during that time of day, you must have laser-sharp focus on your subject and what you are hoping to capture, as the lighting time frame can be so fleeting that stopping to take a look at your camera can result in you missing it! Leaving you… imageless.


    How to find it:
    The subtle darkness of houses offer unique photographic opportunities due to the a variety of light sources within them, but the key to finding the best indoor lighting conditions is to be able to achieve the classic distinction between ‘Quality' and 'Quantity’.

    While a big light source, such as a big window or a door, might seem like the obvious choice, it might also present a problem; when it comes to indoor spaces, too strong a light source tends to blast the room with unproportionate amounts of light, thus creating extremely harsh shadows that take away the small and beautiful nuances of the room.

    This is why, as a rule of thumb, you should try to explore the darker areas of your location, examine the light by how it blends with the overall environment. Try to favor main light sources that are balanced with the rest of the existing lights in the space. This will help you maintain some of the room's “personality” while still having the main light source for your character or subject.

    Why use this light:
    My favorite feature about these mixed indoor lighting conditions is that, if used correctly, they create compositions with a natural tendency to lead the viewer's eyes in a way that enhances your image's ability to tell a story.

    Let me explain how that works:

    Your viewer's attention will always be drawn to the brightest lighting source in your frame - and this is where you want your main subject or character to be. The rest of your composition should rely on, and even integrate, other light sources such as an old lamp, candle lights or even light sneaking in from another room. These secondary light sources will reveal other elements in the room, elements your viewers can examine as they try to learn more about the story - based on its surroundings.

    IMG 7973

    Keep in Mind:
    Photographing indoors usually implies that you will be working in someone's home or workspace, which means that the environment is a direct interpretation of the character's personality and lifestyle. For that exact reason I highly recommend you to favor lighting conditions that reveal more elements from the character's surroundings, this will help you to find very rewarding images as they share more about the character's story.

    Final Words...

    I truly hope you are able to find a way to integrate these 2 lighting scenarios into your work.
    Remember: Unique lighting conditions are an important ingredient in creating work that stands out - now go out there and make some amazing photography!

    But before you leave this blog - I would love to ask you for a favor... I started this blog series under the belief that 'knowledge should be shared'
    therefore my request from you is simple - pass it forward and share these tips with someone who you think would appreciate it.

    Simply click on one of the share buttons below to allow your friends to read this blog post and learn more about unique lighting conditions in documentary photography.

    Let me know if you have any questions or comments regarding this blog post, I would love to hear from you.

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    1 comment

    • Chuck Mauter

      Chuck Mauter

      Comment Link Wednesday, 26 April 2017 21:45

      I am a student of Shamanism and study with the Four Winds, Way more commercial than what your experienced. I enjoyed your story as well as your images. Capturing this history is important and your photo's do a wonderful job.

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