Understanding Light is Critical to Good Photography

If you want to create a photo like an artist, “paint” with natural light.

To do that you need to understand that what your eye sees in natural light may be different than what your camera “sees.” And the type of camera you use, such as film versus digital – will react to light in different ways as well.

Robert Holmes, the National Geographic photographer, says that it is critical to understand light and how your camera reacts to light, and it takes practice. Shoot in different lighting until you know what to expect from your camera so you’ll have a sense of what the end result will be.

In a video about how to capture his “National Geographic Style,” he describes different lighting effects that emanate from one natural light source, the sun.

Two types of light are named after the Dutch masters, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

Rembrandt light emanates from the frame. There is no external light source for this effect, much like in Rembrandt’s paintings where the light seems to emanate from within the painting.

Vermeer light is a soft northern light that comes through a window. “Blue” light is captured at twilight. And then there’s the “golden hours,” which he says every good photographer knows about, or should. This is lighting that occurs just before sunrise, and after sunset and is considered the “prettiest.”

Of course there’s a lot of experimentation involved in capturing the lighting effects you want in a photograph.

Then, if you want to print your photograph to make it a lasting piece of art, consider metal. The surface adds even more depth of color and illumination as if it were backlit, taking your artistic vision to the next level – much like a master painter’s work of art.