Photography Techniques: Photo Light and Flash
-> Photographing Light
All text &
photos: © 2012 Juergen Roth. All rights reserved.
“Nothing is repeatable especially the light”. - Bob
Tranquil Cape Cod
is often referred to as painting with light. When we
talk about painting with light we talk about the process of
creating a photograph. Photography derives from the Greek
where photo means light and graph stands for painting. So
let’s review the quality, quantity, direction and how we can
manipulate light to our advantage for exceptional
“The moment you take the leap of understanding to realize
you are not photographing a subject
but are photographing
light is when you have control over the medium”. -
The best time for photography is the early morning or late
afternoon hours of a day. When the sun rises or sets the
quality of sunlight paints our photographic objects in warm
hues. Approximately 1 hour before and 2 hours after sunrise
or 1 hour after and 2 hours before sunset provide the so
called golden hours of the day. During this time we
experience lighting conditions that bring out the entire
texture of our photographic objects in warm and pleasing
Cloudy, overcast days provide soft lighting conditions.
This type of light evenly illuminates our subjects, thereby
achieving beautiful detail throughout the frame, including
highlights and shadows. Since an overcast sky does not
typically add to the composition of an image, we usually
like to eliminate it from the frame. However, rules
are meant to be broken and you are the artist, so you get to
make your own artistic statement with your image.
Sunlight during midday is harsh and adds very little to our photography.
There is minimal detail in the darker areas of the picture
and colors are often blown out. This is the time that’s
best suited for resting from the early morning photo
session, catching up on things or scouting photo locations
for your late afternoon or evening photo sessions.
Quantity of Light
“Light meters read; photographers interpret”. -
Catherine Jo Morgan
Bright light transfers into fast shutter speeds thereby
enabling us to freeze action or movement within our camera.
Low light slows down shutter speeds and motion becomes more
blurry as in the intimate landscape photography picture of
the New England cobble stone bridge over Sudbury River.
Great Blue Heron
Our camera provides us with the required controls to compensate for slow
or fast shutter speeds. These controls are ISO, aperture
and shutter speed, a.k.a. exposure time, settings which make
up for a correct exposure.
Understanding exposure and how ISO, aperture and shutter
speed correlate is critical for a high quality photograph
and one should always strive for the highest quality image.
I usually select the lowest ISO camera setting (ISO100 and
smaller) to minimize camera noise and capture more detail.
I then choose the aperture depending on my photographic
goals and the amount of depth of field to capture my vision.
Choosing a small aperture or f-stop setting (large f/numbers
such as 11 and greater) will slow down shutter speed but
maximizes depth of field and is mostly desired when
photographing grand landscapes or city skylines. In such
photos we strive for sharpness and detail from the nearest
picture element in the foreground all the way to the
A large aperture (small f/numbers such as 5.6 and less)
selection will provide fast shutter speeds and is mostly
desired when capturing action or motion (i.e. birds or
sports) with our photography. In these types of photos we
strive for a quiet backdrop that beautifully isolates the
main subject from any distractions in the background and
solely lays the focus on the main subject.
Note: If you use a tripod,
you do not need to worry much about slow shutter
Direction of Light
“Available to all photographers free is the one light source
given by a window which faces the north. It's a painterly
light that any face or still life comes alive in”. -
Garry Camp Burdick
Red on Pink
Backlighting is achieved when the subject is lit from
behind. Besides sidelight, it is the most spectacular light
for which we can aim. It works magically in macro
photography where the high contrast makes the photographic
subject glow from within. It is also beautifully used with
translucent objects like tulip flowers or tree leaves which
add drama and abstraction to an image.
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I love when the
morning or afternoon sunlight strikes and illuminates the
colors of fall foliage. In the photo of the maple tree
leaves from the inspiring
Boston Arnold Arboretum
the goal was to isolate a branch with four maple leaves in
peak New England autumn colors. The leaves were sun-kissed
while the background made out of shrubs and other tree
foliage remained mostly in the shade. Using a polarizing
further darkened the shadow parts, added more drama and
enhanced the natural green, yellow and orange colors. The
polarizer also eliminated any unwanted and distracting glare
on the foliage.
“Where light and shadow fall on your subject - that is the
essence of expression and art through photography”.
very beneficial to capture form and texture of our
photographic objects. It provides a motif with well lit
subjects and shadows. These elements make a picture come
alive and help to convey spatial depth.
In magical Acadia National Park, finding this tiny evergreen
tree that looked like a cute little Bonsai tree in this
grand Maine landscape was priceless. The tree made for a
perfect foreground subject that conveys depth and
perspective of the rigid seacoast. The beautiful morning
sidelight was striking the rigid coastline and brought out
the form and texture of the evergreen tree, granite rock
seacoast and Otter Cliff in the far distance.
is achieved when the subject is directly lit from the front.
It is not very beneficial in landscape photography because
texture and form will be lost and a photograph often appears
flat, but it can be useful for macro flower and raindrop
photography in order to capture details and the glint of
light on droplets of water.
overcast sky is best suited for flower photography, but in
this rose image I dismissed this rule. I was intrigued by
the early morning, sunlit red rose covered with raindrops.
The front light created a sun filled, color saturated, high
contrast image that provides exceptional fine detail
throughout the entire. The high contrast made the droplets
appear as bright shiny diamonds and added the extra twist to
make it work.
Twilight or Night Light
"To learn the magic of light, get up before sunrise ... and
Saturday Night Live in Beantown - Boston
Twilight or night light makes for spectacular landscape and
city skyline imagery. The best time is 20 to 45 minutes
after the sun has set. The optimum light does not last long
and is hard to predict, so be sure to get to your location
prior to sunset, set up your tripod and camera, so you’ll be
prepared to fire away once the sun sets and disappears on
the horizon. This approach requires sufficient battery
power and flash card memory to keep shooting while closing
in on the optimum light. The twilight effect also works on
cloudy days where 30 plus seconds exposure times are not
My last visit to Acadia National Park in Maine coincided
with a full moon and planning ahead was essential to take
advantage of that. I scouted for suitable locations along
the granite coast shoreline the previous day. The next
evening I made my way back to the promising location and set
up my tripod and camera near a tiny tide pool and patiently
waited for the magic to unfold. It did not disappoint and I
was rewarded with spectacular lighting enhanced by a
beautiful moonrise across the Atlantic Ocean. The portrait
format in combination with a low camera point allowed me to
include the moon and its reflection in the tide pool into
the composition and a wide-angle lens conveyed good spatial
depth. I metered and manually focused on the granite coast
in the foreground. A spit neutral density filter reduced
the light on the moon, sky, and soft layer of pink clouds
while the foreground was sufficiently exposed.
Moonrise in Acadia National
In the image titled Morning Bliss, I used twilight
before sunrise in Acadia National Park to my advantage.
Arriving early enough to set up and find a suitable
location was crucial. I then followed the same approach as
mentioned above to close in on the optimal light and convey
the outdoor experience of a beautiful sunrise into a
Influencing the Light
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love
it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are
worth and you will know the key to photography.” –
Cape Cod Fishing Shack
Always strive to capture the optimal image in the field and
keep the software post-processing to a minimum. A
polarizing filter screws to the front of the camera and when
the filter is rotated, it adjusts the amount of polarized
light reflecting from the photographic subject. A circular
polarizing filter boosts color and balances the contrast; it
eliminates glare and reflections. Think of it as
sunglasses for your camera. Overall, these filters
increase color saturation, boost a blue sky, add cloud
contrast, controls reflections, and add neutral density (as
a neutral density filter) to lengthen exposure times for
blurred, impressionistic images.
When buying a polarizing filter, ensure to purchase one for
your largest lens diameter. Lenses with smaller
diameters can be equipped with adapters allowing the larger
filter to be mounted on the smaller sized lens. This
will keep you on budget and lowers the weight of your photo
gear in the field.
In the picture of the red fishing shack in Rockport, aka
Motif #1, so called because it is the most often-painted
building in America, the polarizer darkened the harbor water
by eliminating unwanted bright sky reflection. The
photo filter also saturated the red color of the fishing
shack and the blue hues of the sky.
Split Neutral Density Filter
Overcoming high contrast condition is not a mission
impossible in photography. We as photographers are often
challenged by difficult lighting conditions due to the high
contrast of a sunset sky and the darker landscape scenery in
front of us.
In the picture of a blue dinghy on Cape Cod, I was
challenged by those exact conditions. When I metered on the
beautiful pink, sunset sky, the grass and dinghy become too
dark with limited detail. On the other hand, metering on
the marshland and blue boat provided decent detail in the
landscape, but blew out the sky, leaving it washed out. As
a solution I metered on the blue boat, which provided a
correct exposure setting for all elements in the foreground.
Then I positioned a 1 stop graduated neutral density filter
in front of my lens, placing it near the edge/horizon where
sky and landscape met. This reduced the incoming light
on the sky and clouds, while at the same time, maintaining
their colors. Now all below the horizon were correctly
exposed for a landscape photo with strong foreground
composition and impact.
Reflectors are used to enhance the light and direct the
light towards a shaded area of a subject. For instance, a
reflector can enhance the shaded elements of a flower when
it is facing away from a window or light source. You
get to control the light here. Just adjust the reflector/s
(white card boards work too) and explore the impact of the
lighting on the flower.
Adjusting the light with reflectors is also a great learning
experience and often leads to more inspiring and beautiful
fine art photography. There are certain positions when a
reflector unleashes maximum impact and it is our job to
explore the best impact by rearranging and adjusting them in
different angels or slants.
“It is the photographing of ordinary things, in
which results in extraordinary photographs”. -
"The question is not what you
look at, but what you see." - HENRY D. THOREAU
Juergen Roth Artist Website
Juergen Roth Photography
Juergen Roth was born and raised near Cologne, Germany. In 1988, he moved to
Berlin West where he, along with other photographs, were showcased in a
local show. Following several visits to New York City, Juergen was honored
with a solo exhibition of New York photographs in Berlin.
Since 2001 he has been living in Brookline, Massachusetts. His work has been published in books, calendars and magazines. Juergen finds inspiration at the nearby Wildlife Sanctuaries, as well as, in
the beautiful landscapes of New Englands' National and State Parks/Forests.
Juergen has always regarded nature as the ultimate inspiration.
& photos: © 2012 Juergen Roth.
All rights reserved.
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