LIGHT, WEATHER AND TIMING: OFTEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN CAMERA SETTINGS
I have a little saying which is supposed to sound very clever: ‘You can’t make a great photo out of a lousy situation.’
While not true 100% of the time, it is designed to make people realise that aperture, shutter speed and ISO can’t solve all your photography problems. Many times people have asked me why a photo doesn’t look sharp, or why it lacks colour…and wonder what settings I am using to make my photos look better than theirs. Yet one look at the photo makes it clear that it was taken looking into the sun, or in patchy light in the middle of the day…or any one of a dozen other ‘problem situations’ that can spoil an image.
So perhaps it’s time to worry less about camera settings and think more about the situations you are shooting in.
The rainforest photo (above) was taken on day that was partly cloudy, partly sunny. While the sun shone through the forest, I didn’t even bother taking the lens cap off the camera. Yet when the sun went behind a cloud, the light was suddenly perfect and the photo practically took itself.
While there are a million variables in nature, here are a few things that are generally true.
- If the sun is behind the subject, you will usually get a silhouette effect. Which can be great in some situations. But if you want true, vibrant colour in a shot, you want the sun behind you – not behind the subject.
- If it is a sunny day, you will get better photos early in the morning and late afternoon, rather than in the middle of the day. You will get lower contrast and more pleasing colours…there is a reason why they call it ‘the golden hour.’
- Wildlife can often be photographed just as well – and sometimes better – in the shade or on a cloudy day. With no direct sunlight, glare is reduced, harsh shadows disappear, and colours are often more saturated.
- Rainforests and waterfalls usually photograph better on a cloudy day – for all the same reasons.
- The sun behind the subject can work quite well in certain situations. Backlighting can be a beautiful effect, best achieved if there is something delicate for the light to shine through. and once again, golden hour prevails. Shots like this work best in the first and last few minutes of the day.
Always remember, good photography is primarily about light. If you work harder to get yourself into the right place at the right time when conditions are in your favour, the actual photography becomes easier than you could possibly imagine. But if you keep trying to take good photos in lousy situations, no amount of camera technique will save you.