Mastering Light: Natural and Flash

Working with dramatic natural light, window light, and flash-blur

by Jim Zuckerman

© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
The word "photography" comes from the Greek words meaning "to write with light". In fact, light is one of the two major components that go into making great photos (the other one is design). Some thoughts:

Dramatic Natural Light
Let me explain why early morning and late afternoon light are so effective in producing exquisite photos.:

  • First, the color of the light is golden yellow, and when it bathes landscapes, architecture, wildlife, and people in its warmth the resulting images are transformed into works of art.
  • Second, the low-angled direction from which the light comes creates texture. Whether you are shooting a model or sand dunes, the definition of your subject is enhanced.
  • Third, the contrast between shadows and highlights is diminished so you can expose correctly for both.

© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
Window Light
I have always liked using window light as a main source of illumination. It is soft, natural, and very flattering in many situations. Instead of destroying the appropriate highlights and shadows with flash, when you use ambient window light you retain the correct relationship between light and dark in the picture. I've used it for many types of subjects, including portraits, art objects, architecture and product shots.

Using the light coming in from a window usually requires a faster ISO to compensate for darker conditions and it often means using a tripod.

Showing Motion: Flash-Blur
This is done by combining the flash with a long exposure. The result actually looks like a double exposure because the flash gives you a sharp rendition of the subject while the slow shutter speed results in a blur.

I find that dancers are among the best subjects to shoot because of the colorful costumes and artistic movements of their bodies. But you can also photograph athletes in motion, race cars at night, flowers blowing in the wind in low light, horses running and many other things.

The best circumstance for flash-blur photography is in low light conditions: indoors on stage, outside under a thick cloud cover, or at night.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Jim Zuckerman
Photography Instructor: Jim ZuckermanFew people are able to spend most of their time pursuing their passion in life. I'm one of them, and I feel blessed to have had a love affair with photography since I began taking pictures.

In 1970, I decided to abort my intended career as a doctor in favor of photography and have never regretted it. Photography has enriched my life more than I can tell you. My career has taken me to over 60 countries, and I've seen and photographed wondrous things.

I specialize in wildlife and nature, international travel, and digital effects. In addition, I also shoot nudes, photo- and electron microscopy, children, and other subjects that stimulate my visual or emotional sensibilities.

For 25 years, I shot a medium format camera, specifically the Mamiya RZ 67, for its superior quality. When I would lecture, Id project the large, glass mounted transparencies, and it was really an incredible experience to see the brilliant color saturation and resolution of these slides. However, I went digital in 2004 because the technology finally equaled or surpassed medium format. I now shoot the Canon 1Ds Mark II digital camera with a variety of lenses.

I am the author of 12 books on photography. My work is sold in 30 countries around the world, and my images have appeared on scores of magazine and book covers, calendars, posters, national ads, trade ads, brochures, and corporate promotions.

For many years I've led photography tours to exotic places. These include Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Burma, Greece, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Spain, Morocco, and Peru.