Seeing the light

Is there a difference between the exposure of a good picture and a bad one? The answer is no.

(9/27/15)
Sert Keo of Stockton takes in a fiery sunset from the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. Ken is bathed in the last bits of the sunset at the end of the day. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The making of an exposure is a purely technical thing. Whether you set your camera manually or if you put it on automatic, the process is the same. The ISO (light sensitivity) is set. From there the aperture (the lens opening that lets the light in) is determined as is the shutter speed (the amount of time that light hits the sensor). It’s known as the exposure triangle and it’s used to capture a quantity of light.

(12/1/07) An early morning frost covers a leaf at Don Notoli Park in Elk Grove. The early morning light has a warm tone.[CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

So, if the mechanics of capturing light is the same between good and bad, what sets them apart? The answer is quality of light.

(11/18/17)
The morning sun lights up a fallen leaf at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

When someone first learns about photography and the exposure triangle they’re so concerned about the amount of light and how to use their camera to record it, that they don’t really think about how the quality of light is more important to the photo.

(3/29/16)
Lemuel Timbreza, 19, of Stockton casts a long shadow from the low evening sun while practicing his guitar on the brick labyrinth at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]
52

I go on and on about how you should take your photos either in the early morning or late afternoon. That’s when the light is the best. The light from a a sun that’s directly overhead can create harsh shadows for portraits and boring illumination for landscapes. The morning/afternoon light comes in a shallow angle and helps to fill-in the shadows. Noonday light can make even the most majesty mountain look flat and ho-hum. A low-angled sun can give depth and a 3-dimensionality to your photo. I addition, the light from those morning/afternoon hours give a warmer and more pleasing tone.

(4/19/19)
Erica Standifer reads aloud a passage from the Bible as a parts of a Good Friday observance at the First Baptist Church in Stockton. A fill-flash technique is used to help illuminate the reader against the brighter light coming from the background. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

So, if the only time you have to take a portrait is at noon are you stuck? Not necessarily. Try moving your subject into the shade. The light will be more even and softer. You can also provide your own light by using a flash. The technique is called fill-flash or flash fill, but the idea is to use your flash during the day to help fill in the severe, unwanted shadows under the eyes, nose and chin.

(7/8/19)
Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea delivers a pitch against the Visalia Rawhide while on a rehab assignment with the Stockton Ports at the Stockton Ballpark. The low angle of an evening sun helps to fill in the shadows that would normally be under Manaea’s hat brim. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

If you plan to take a portrait, then schedule it for sunrise or sunset. If you’re on a sight seeing, picture-taking trip, line up you’re itinerary so that image worthy attractions are also during those prime hours.

(5/5/19)
Seven-year-old Alexa Escalera, left, and her 6-year-old cousin Valeria Escalera watch the annual El Concilio’s Cinco de Mayo parade in downtown Stockton. A fill flash technique is use to help fill in the shadows. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

My wife has found me many times playing with light. We may be at a restaurant, at a friend’s house or just walking down the street. Occasionally, I’ll reach out to see how the light plays against my hand, how it reflects off of something or what kinds of shadows are created by it. I’ll file away mental notes of what I see. It’s all a part of learning how to see the light.

(6/13/19)
Mountain House’s Elias Escobar reaches for a pass during a North team practice at Stagg High School in Stockton ahead of the Lions’ All-Star Football game in Saturday. The low angle of an evening sun helps to fill in the shadows that would normally be under Escobar’s helmet. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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