The Basics of Light & Photography


A photography teacher once taught me that a great photograph takes a lot of elements to work—setting and lines and subject—but the most important element is light. Good light will make all of the difference. Understanding a few properties of light and photography can take your photos from good to great.

Our Light Lab provides some cool opportunities to explore what light can do!
Our Light Lab provides some cool opportunities to explore what light can do!

The first step is to choose a good time of day to take your photos. Natural light looks best and it means that you can avoid using the flash, which can make photos look washed out. When you’re seeking out good natural light, see if you can use the hour just after sunrise or the hour just before sunset. Photographers call this “The Golden Hour” because the light from the sun makes everything look magical during this time.

There are two parts of the camera that control the light—the aperture and the shutter speed. The aperture is an opening in the lens of the camera that changes size in order to let in more light or less light, depending on the needs of the photo. Using a large aperture (as seen in #1 in the photo below) will let in more light and will also make the subjects in the foreground of the photo appear more in focus. The purpose of a small aperture (as seen in #2 below) will make everything in the photograph appear evenly in focus. Your pupils in your eyes work in a similar fashion. Your irises act like tiny aperture stops that control the size of the pupil. When it’s dark outside, your pupils will enlarge to let in more light and when it’s sunny, your pupils get smaller to account for the extra light outside. If you have a camera that will let you change the aperture setting, try experimenting with various sizes (f-stops is what they’re called in photography) and see how the results differ.


(Photo source)

The shutter speed controls the…you guessed it…speed of the shutter. A slower response time in the closing of the lens allows more light to enter the exposure. A fast shutter speed will not let in very much light, but can be extremely effective in capturing quick action shots of kids or pets. A good digital camera (or even your phone!) will help to figure out the proper settings automatically, but learning how to change the settings yourself can give you even more control in achieving that perfect shot.

Our Saturday workshop this week will teach you how to use your digital camera to take better pictures. Guests will go on a scavenger hunt that will help you learn the principles of composition and lighting.   Bring your camera from home or borrow one of ours! The workshop will be on Saturday, June 21st from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM and requires a ticket–find more details here.

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