SHOOTING IN SUNLIGHT
Sunlight is the light source that most people start with when first picking up a camera. It's bright, it gives you fast shutter speeds and you get sharp pictures holding the camera. Lots of light gives you lots of choices.
Landscapes look best taken early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. The sunlight travels through more atmosphere when the sun is low on the horizon, you get warm tones and dramatic shadows. Wide-angle lenses are popular with landscape photographers, but make sure you have some strong foreground interest in your shot, and maybe some leading lines to take your eye to the focal point.
Many years ago beginners were encouraged to shoot landscapes with the sun behind them, it was easier for those meters to produce a decent exposure, and it avoided lens flare. But these days our cameras' evaluative or matrix meters are very reliable, and lens flare in a shot is often sought after. Choose side lighting when using polariser filters to saturate colours and strengthen skies. So get creative and shoot with the light coming from every angle. You'll get to know what works best for you.
Taking portraits in sunlight can be tricky. With the sun directly in your subject's face she'll squint. Strong overhead sunlight casts shadows on faces. You'll end up with dark eye sockets; avoid these in standard portraits, but perhaps keep them in gothic or steam punk images?
It's better to photograph your subject in sunlight with the light falling over her shoulder, or side lighting. The image will be attractive and with luck you'll capture some of her personality.
Side lighting has the effect of lighting the face unevenly which looks good. A range of light and shadow on skin and clothing seems to work well. Try turning her head slightly towards the sun until you find the best angle for her.
Portraits taken with the sun behind the subject have their own problems. The bright background dominates the exposure and your subject will be too dark, sometimes just a silhouette. If you expose with a spot meter reading of your model the sky may be burnt out, which means you can't recover it afterwards on your computer. Instead try using fill-in flash to light the model (see below). You can also use a white reflecting surface to throw light on the face, even a newspaper on the model's lap can help.
Srinaveen Maamidi, My Ride.
Chinmoy Biswas, Snake Charmer.
FILL IN FLASH
Typically flash is used to brighten the whole image. It can also be used to lighten just your subject when she is standing in front of a bright background.
You can use your camera's built in flash to produce just enough light to lighten the subject. Doesn't usually affect the background if it's more than 3 metres behind your model.
Switch to Program (P) or Aperture Priority (A) and use evaluative / matrix metering. Remove your lens hood, it will block the light from the flash. Take some test shots and then vary your aperture to get different effects. If your subject is too brightly lit reduce the flash by adjusting your exposure compensation. Try a setting of -1.0 at first. If your test shot is too dark you can move closer, or increase your ISO. Set your pop-up flash to Slow if you are shooting in evening light.
Gus Gregory, Boy from Nanxao.
It used to be out of fashion, but now using natural light for interior shots is common and a good choice. You can include the window itself in the photograph as in many of Vermeer's paintings, but most photographers compose their own image using just the light. It's soft and indirect, ideal for portraits and atmospheric interiors.
Use a window facing either south or north. You need other sources of light in the room so choose a room with plenty of other windows. Don't put any lights on, you don't want harsh, directional lighting or colour casts.
A portrait style lens (50mm-80mm) is ideal. Select a wide aperture to limit the depth of field, and a shutter speed to prevent camera shake. If the available light is very low you might need a tripod. Set the exposure by spot metering on the face, and then arrange the model to take full advantage of side lighting.
Hao Wu, Woman on Bus.
Kazi Sudipto Rahman, The Light of Innocence.
Candlelit scenes have a distinct look. To photograph them well takes practice, but it's worth it. They're great for romantic or nostalgic shots, they flatter the subject. Keep in mind many of the world's most valuable paintings are of a scene lit by candles or oil lamps!
With good light a low ISO setting will increase the image quality and your image will be sharp. But if your light levels are low you'll get camera shake. A tripod makes all the difference.
A single candle will produce very little light and strong shadows. Multiple candles would be brighter and give you more choice in how you light your subject. Try placing more candles on one side of your subject than the other, you'll get a subtle side lighting effect. It's probably best to include at least one candle in the shot, it explains the golden colours.
It's best not to use flash at all. If you need extra light try using a reflective surface. It could be as simple as placing your subject near a white wall or a tablecloth.
Dalip Singh, Candlelight Chess.
Emman Foronda, Study Hard.
Getting your picture to look natural in dark venues with flash isn't very easy. We've all seen 'deer caught in the headlights' shots of people having fun at a party. An external flash gun will make things easier. It clips onto your camera and its top swivels up and down to bounce the light before lighting your scene. The ceiling works well because people look natural when lit from overhead, and ceilings also tend to be painted white. Sometimes your results may look a little flat, but if so pull out the bounce card from the front of the flash you can bounce a little bit of light off the card and then onto the subjects. This brings out the catch lights in the eyes and add sparkle to faces.
Newcomers to flash photography might prefer to get their camera to do the work. Set your flash gun to TTL Mode, the ISO at either 400 or 800, and your camera in aperture priority mode. A wide aperture will make your subject distinct from the background. Use the ceiling to bounce the flash if it's white or near white, or choose a very pale wall. You can adjust the brightness of your shot by adjusting your flash exposure compensation on your camera.
Fireworks are both your source of light and your subject. They're a great way to shoot action and colour on drab winter evenings. There's lots of great photographs taken of fireworks displays, but many of them need a fair bit of skill. You can set your camera to take multiple exposures, this allows you take a series of photographs on one frame. You combine a series of shots taken at different times. But you need to remember where each subject will appear within the frame, and the exposure settings can be complicated. Instead you could use your photo editing software to combine individual shots afterwards.
Let's keep it simple for now. Choose a vantage point where you won't be disturbed. Have a go at shooting single images handholding your camera, and point at the part of sky with the most action. Try using aperture priority (A) with a wide aperture e.g. f/4. A higher ISO setting will increase your shutter speed (ideally 1/200 sec), making handholding possible. Activate image stabilisation or vibration reduction on your lens if you have that feature.
The key to success is holding the camera as steadily as possible and anticipating your shot. The best time to shoot is just after the fireworks have exploded in the sky, they appear to hang for a second with two and you'll get a sharp shot then. It's also the time when the sky is brightest.
Chris Dorney, Thames Festival Fireworks, London.
Christopher Cook, Celebration.