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Making the Most of Light

An ideal light for some types of garden photography is soft, diffused light that we sometimes see on overcast but bright days. If this is accompanied by little or no wind then we have the ideal conditions. However if we wait for these conditions then we will have very few opportunities to get our photos. So we have to come up with ways of working with the light we are given and there are many ways of doing this. The direction of light is also important in that it can have a dramatic effect on the appearance of the finished image. As well as giving light to your subject of course different types of light can be used to have a warming or cooling effect.

Light is determined by the time of day. At different times throughout the day the sun is in different positions/angles and depending on your subject and what you are trying to take, you can end up with:

Frontal Lighting

This is where the light is straight on the subject. Now this can offer challenges in that it can flatten the image but also when close up it will be behind you and therefore you can create a shadow, so positioning the camera and yourself slightly to one side will lift the image and overcome the shadow. However for full garden scenes this could be an ideal light in that the image will not be spoilt by dark shadows which will be behind the subject.

See Larger Image A Country Garden in Gloucestershire

Side Lighting

This type of lighting gives texture and solidity as well as depth within the scene. The shadows in this case being used to give depth to the composition. Depending on how much light and contrast is on the scene and the subject you are taking you will have to consider whether you are going to expose for shadows or highlights, generally it is better to expose for highlights as these cannot be recovered later. Shadows can be good and used to your advantage, in that shadows do provide depth, can give better shape and mark out undulations taking away the flat landscape that the camera may first see. See the Exposure section for more on how to control and take advantage of it it and the EV Guide which tells you how to set your camera up to get the right results.

Back Lighting

Using the light behind the subject, especially a single bloom, can add drama and reveals texture and outline, or a silhouette effect. You will probably have to work out the exposure you want for this set up as the cameras automatic exposure will be fooled by the large amount of light coming at it. See the Exposure section for more on this.

Uneven Lighting

Uneven lighting can be compensated for by using reflectors or fill flash.

We can also use fill flash or a more complex multi flash creative lighting system to add more light to those areas in heavy shadow.

Throughout the year the sun will be at different heights and giving off different levels of brightness and this combined with the different angles of it during the day does need some thought as to when is the best time to get that image you're after. You may find a sun compass a useful tool to add to your kit bag as this will allow you to calculate the direction of the sun throughout the day and therefore allow you to be in the right place at the right time. Of course this is not always possible, particularly when looking at photographing in gardens that are open to the public, as it may not be open at the best time for you. So you sometimes have to go with what you have, so think outside the box and come up with different perspectives and images to capture what you see and get the beauty of the environment before you on camera.

See Also:


By: Tracey Park Section: Gardens Section Key:
Page Ref: gp_making_most_light Topic: Gardens Last Updated: 03/2011

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