Photography by its very definition is all about light. The name is derived from the Greek – “Photos” meaning light, and “Graphos” meaning drawing or painting. Light is the critical ingredient in photography, and the properties of light need to be understood for the photographer to be able to make good photographs. Light reveals itself with infinite subtleties and characteristics. Natural light can change from a cool blue to a warm pink in a matter of seconds. Relatively ordinary subjects, photographed in good light, make for a better photograph than a potentially great subject photographed in poor light.
The camera vs. the human eye
Compared to the human eye, digital cameras can only capture a limited range of light. This is referred to as contrast and is the reason why a lot of photographs don’t look good. High contrast is created by bright light, generally during the bright daylight hours. In these conditions, cameras are not capable of capturing detail in bright highlights and dark shadows simultaneously.
The easiest way of getting around this, is to make sure that the subject is evenly and uniformly lit by the same intensity of light. To do this, try to make sure that the subject is either completely in sunlight or completely in shade. Also pay attention to the surrounding area and the background, to ensure that it is in the same light as your subject.
If shadows are being created, for example by the sun being overhead, you can use the camera’s flash to reduce the shadows under the eyes and the nose. For this to be effective, you need to be fairly close to your subject.
Light can come from a variety of sources: the sun is the most obvious, but lamps, torches, candles and fire are also sources of light that can be used to illuminate a subject.