24 Hour Special: Glorious Morning Light
The light after sunrise is soft, oblique, energetic and ideal for photography. It is quite easy to get superb shots of almost any subject in morning light.
While we have always heard about the benefits of rising early, there is one significant advantage of being an early bird—great photographs! Morning is when nature comes to life. Even the cities and busy metros are calm and peaceful in the morning. Also, as compared to late afternoon, the atmospheric pollution is almost absent in the morning. Due to this, the light seems more yellow, rather than red or orange.
Shoot Against the Light
Shooting against the light helps define the shape and form of the subject. Bright rim lighting is seen around the edges of the subject, making it stand out against the background. It also gives the subject a luminous feel.
Take a spot reading from the subject so that it is properly exposed. While doing this, check the histogram to ensure that the highlights do not get blown out. If required, underexpose the image by half a stop. Use a lens hood while shooting against the light, to improve contrast and prevent lens flare. You can also cup your hands to shade your lens.
Capture a Sunburst
While shooting against the light, if you minimise your aperture to a value like f/16 or f/22, you can get the effect of a sunburst. This is a technique that is generally useful while shooting point sources of light; but it also works when sunlight is passing through branches or getting reflected off a metallic surface. The narrower the aperture, the more extreme is the sunburst.
While the technique involved is similar to shooting against the light, backlighting primarily helps you emphasise textures. When light passes through translucent objects, the details on the surface of the subject get highlighted. For example, this technique can be used to shoot the textures and venations of backlit leaves. To capture this, you can also try using the macro mode.
Highlight Your Subject
Sunlight that filters in through trees and buildings creates an interesting play of light and shadow. You can use this to highlight your subject. Subjects that receive direct light can be isolated from their background by the use of spot metering. Meter from the brightest part of the subject—the reading you will get will expose the subject properly and make the shadow part of the background black. This technique is particularly useful while shooting in areas covered in dappled shade.
Make Use of Natural Diffusers
Morning light gets further diffused in cloudy and foggy conditions. The clouds act as a filter and allow you to keep the sun in your frame without overexposing the image. In foggy conditions, some of the light gets captured in the fog, which is suspended over the atmosphere.
Capture a Beam of Light
Light particles get collected in early morning mist, fog, smoke and even dust. This can be used to create a halo around your subject and can enhance the mood of the image. When these light particles hit an obstruction, they get dispersed into a number of light beams. While shooting such scenes, underexpose by half or one stop. This will make the background darker and highlight the sunbeams. Morning light is the secret behind a lot of photographs that have warm and rich colours. Follow these techniques to make full use of the light and make your shooting experience a lot more rewarding.
Four Great Subjects to Shoot in the Morning
Slanting morning light enhances the textures of sand and water. Beaches look especially great in the morning because crowds are lesser, the air is pure and the water looks deep blue. Also, this is the time when beaches are the cleanest. This allows you to shoot photographs that do not have too many distracting elements. People who have come to visit the beach in the morning can also make fun subjects to shoot.
Plants revel in all their glory early in the morning. The dew that gets formed makes plants look fresh. There is no limit to the different ways you can explore nature at this time of the day. You could set out for a nature walk and shoot the various subjects you come across. Alternatively, you can simply shoot flowers and plants in your own backyard. Experiment with both sidelighting and backlighting.
Shoot scenes of people getting ready for their daily work and routine. People walking, exercising or workers cleaning the roads can make good subjects. Not just this, the light adds a lovely tone to the image, which livens up even a basic street scene. For instance, you can capture interesting street scenes in busy bylanes and markets, where people would be busy setting up their shops.
Be it insects or dewdrops, morning light is great for shooting macros. It is less contrasty and helps bring out textures. Shoot against the light or use sidelighting. The macro mode of compact cameras today, is extremely effective, with most cameras allowing you to focus as close as 1cm. If you have an SLR, either use a special macro lens, or use a magnifying glass in front of your lens.
To see the various ways you can shoot throughout the day, visit http://betterphotography.in/2012/01/13/photography-clock-24hrs-special/
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Better Photography.