Friday, March 7, 2014

Under a Somber Sky: Lighting Tips

The morning greeted me with a chill silence, grey and damp. Clouds blanketed the sun and the heavy humidity stuck to my skin. I shivered and zipped up my sweater.
Today would be a great day for macros.

As photographers, we worship the light, chase it, cater to it, long for it. However we must not forget the utility of cloud cover. Clouds allow for soft, diffused light that coaxes the vibrancy from flower petals and greenery. In harsh daytime light, many of the subtle colors of flowers get washed out or overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the light. Heavy cloud cover prevents this problem, allowing for brilliant portraits. 
Of course, with the heavy clouds overhead the problem of darkness follows - it may be too dim to get the fast shutter speeds needed for sharp images of quick-moving insects or birds. Thus, I mostly stick to shooting flowers in these circumstances - but that doesn't mean you have to.
Diffused lighting allows for the delicate color palette of this flower to be captured without the "bleaching" of the white petals produced by bright overhead sunshine
A morning with heavy cloud cover provides other opportunities as well. The lack of sunshine means that morning delicacies such as dew hang around longer, as the light needed to evaporate them is missing.
Here you can see not only the dewdrops, but how vibrantly the blue and yellow tones have been rendered.

Dew drops are always a treat to discover because they add another layer of detail to macro subjects. The layered textures in the above photograph create new interest in an image that otherwise would rely on color and composition only.

Finally, soft morning light allows for more detail to be rendered in textured subjects, versus harsh, overhead midday light. Strong noontime lighting will destroy the subtle shadows of fine textures, such as the veining on this leaf above. Note also the richness of the color tones afforded by the overcast lighting.

What do you think about photographing under cloud cover? What is your favorite kind of lighting? I talk about evening lighting in this post.
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