“Every picture has its shadows, And it has some source of light”- Joni Mitchell.
Love this song, just saying. In photography we paint with light, it is our currency. The better we understand our light, the better we get at our craft. There is really no such thing as bad light, we just need to understand the challenges of how to photograph in different lighting conditions.
So when I’m out at Street I just follow the light, I start by looking for the source of light. Is the scene sunlit or cloudy? Is there reflected light from walls or buildings?
After I find my light source, then I look at the quality of the light, just observe the subjects before I take my images. Is the light harsh or soft? Is it warm or cool in colour temperature? Is it natural or artificial? Is it direct light or ambient? Is it flat or adds texture? An easy way to see what your light is doing is just to look at your own hand, see where the highlights are and where the shadows fall. This all becomes very intuitive after a while.
These are some ways that I see and use lighting conditions..
Harsh sunlight will give you excellent shadows and contrast, but it is not at all flattering for portraits.
Cloudy skies provide us with a giant soft box that is fabulous for portraiture both candid and otherwise.
Backlighting can add mystery, create rim lighting and silhouettes.
Light from directly behind us will be flat, whereas light at an angle to your subject will create texture.
Half shadow, half-light can create impact where your subject can be emphasised or captured emerging from the shadows.
Ambient light will envelope our subjects so there are no distinct shadows.
If out shooting early in the morning or late afternoon, I might look for a low vantage point to get the sun behind my subject or even from a high vantage point. When the shadows are longer than the person it makes for wonderful shadow play.
Shadow of a subject or an object outside of the frame can also add to the mystery of an image.
Shooting into the sun can give you some beautiful flare effects and starburst effects can be created shooting at a small aperture (f-stop with a higher number).
This image was taken inside the Pyramid at the Louvre. Paris. The shadows here are used as design and negative space. The subject appears to be walking along the diagonal line. I like her anonymity here and her shadow adds impact.
This image was taken quite early in the morning when people were on their way to work. I liked the low perspective and the long shadow, she happened to exhale her cigarette smoke just at the decisive moment when she turned her head.
This image uses the shadow of the lamppost to add more interest, it also uses the invisible lines of sight of the subjects to suggest something is happening outside of the frame.
It is all about shifting our mindset to work with the available Light and thinking on our feet.