Creative Photography: Understanding Natural Light

by Kerry Drager

After: Lighthouse at Twilight
After: Lighthouse at Twilight
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
It really is as simple as it sounds: Start paying more attention to the quality of natural light and your photographs will more consistently match your hopes - and your vision.

Following is an effective workflow ("The Art of Coming Back for Seconds") that can help you more fully understand natural light while also helping you capture more satisfying images. This approach encourages you to analyze light’s impact on your subject at a given moment. And, hopefully, it will inspire you to imagine how light might transform a scene at another time.


The Art of Coming Back for Seconds

Whenever possible, really explore your subject, by shooting different compositions and viewpoints. But also ask yourself, Is this the best light?

A sensible way to answer that question is to come back at another time and see for yourself! All you need to do is find an interesting and easily accessible scene that you can visit again and again at different times and in varying weather.

Before: Lighthouse at Midday
Before: Lighthouse at Midday
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
This act of recording a subject, inspecting the results on another day (after your initial excitement about the scene has cooled down), and returning for a reshoot or two is a valuable way to develop your self-critiquing abilities while also improving your photographic vision. You’ll discover how rewarding and enjoyable it is to become a student of light!

Accompanying photos: Across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, the Point Bonita Lighthouse occupies a rocky perch along a rugged stretch of the Marin County coastline. I photographed "Before: Lighthouse at Midday" in very uninspiring light. At the time, I felt that the scene would come alive in the evening. Following the "Art of Coming Back for Seconds" technique, I returned to catch "After: Lighthouse at Twilight" in the lingering light before nighttime. Note: For "After," I used a sunlight (daylight) White Balance in order to capture late-day's beautiful blues just as I saw them.


Editor's Notes...

Like these ideas? Then check out Kerry Drager's BetterPhoto instructor's page and online courses. Plus, be sure to catch his new books co-authored with Jim Miotke: The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light and The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography.




About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

Be sure to check out Kerry's website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.