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I organize photo tours and, in travel photography I am usually faced with a scenario that is hardly controllable: people are what they are and objects are where they are.... Finally, light is where it is.
Published in LSR Magazine, USA
When you work in a studio, you control the variety, intensity and origin of light; when on a photo tour, your chances are limited to choosing, within a narrow margin of possibilities, the best time to be at the location and placing characters and objects according to the scenario and the existing light.
|Picture taken at Ethiopia, during a Nomad Xpedition photo tour|
On a Nomad Xpedition photo tour when my customers find themselves in a field in Tuscany , the Malecon of Havana or among the members of a tribe in Ethiopia, they can normally only count on their camera and little else.
They usually do not carry reflectors, or large flashes. The only advantage they can have at the time of taking a decent photograph is to understand how light works and, above all, how the camera “sees” light. While landscape photographers often repeat their photographs on several consecutive days at the same location, this is a luxury you can rarely afford in travel photography.
The impossible photo: what to do when light is not where it should be
As with almost everything in life: try to choose a battle you can win. Above all learn to renounce. Work to learn how the camera sees things. You should understand that there are photographs that are absolutely impossible to achieve without the help of artificial lighting: the sooner you drop that impossible photo the sooner you will be in a position to take that photo you can actually succeed in taking.
The camera does not see things the same way we do. We want to capture what our eyes and our mind are seeing. And, while this seems something easy to do, most times we shoot the photo and find out that whatever we believed we were seeing does not appear in it.
The heart has reasons that the mind does not understand. The camera has limitations that our brain ignore.
|Picture taken at Ethiopia, during a Nomad Xpedition photo tour|
While the latter is continuously adapting to situations, when faced to extreme light differences the camera can cop with a limited range of diaphragms. When there are major light differences, we have to choose. We either accept areas of the photograph that will remain obscured, underexposed and others that will come out correctly exposed or the contrary: overexposed light areas, with the darker ones well exposed. In practice this means that what we see perfectly under a good light (a child with its back to the sun, for example) is perceived by the camera as an immense source of light -the illuminated background- with a dark spot in the center. In other cases the camera sees a perfectly lit face and behind it an immense stream of white light.
We should learn to see as the camera does, and this is achieved by understanding how metering systems work, taking photos, observing the results and adjusting accordingly.
Current technology allows us to learn in a dream way: taking the photograph and comparing it immediately with the result we had in mind, allowing us to adjust it. This is exactly the way teaching experts advise to go about learning.
The sooner we drop that impossible photo the sooner we will be in a position to take that photo we can actually succeed in taking. The camera does not see things as we do.
A little creativity.
Let us come back to our impossible situation: when faced with that travel photo you know it is not possible to take, I suggest to give the matter a little thought, considering if there is some other way of telling what you want from a different viewpoint, from an opposite physical standpoint, placing objects in a creative way, understanding how they can be seen differently with the existing light.
- Move around your character. Walk around it and watch how the story changes according to your relative position to it and everything that surrounds it. At the churches in Lalibela (Ethiopia), during the last Nomad Xpedition photo tour, there was only one source of light, no flash allowed. I had to move in order to find the right situation, against the light.
- Learn to see. Search for subjects you were not able to see before and which contribute to the situation. Very often we are so obsessed by what we wanted to photograph that we never get around to seeing everything that is in its neighborhood.Watch out for the light/shadow effect. Those specific rays of light that will make the character stand out against the background. That small difference that shadows make on an illuminated face.
- Adapt to circumstances. Many accidental or wrong photographs turn into great opportunities: the tremendous contrast created by a halo around the character. The burnt background that adds an atmosphere of mystery to the composition.When you are faced by that photo impossible to take, I suggest you give the matter some thought, considering if there is some other way of telling what you want, from a different viewpoint or a different physical standpoint.
This image was taken from our workshop in Ethiopia. Find out more about them and Travel Photography with Nomad Xpedition
Technique, art and light metering
It is obvious that photographs are taken with heart and mind. The camera is a mere instrument. The problem is that without it, there is no way to produce photographs.
Light, along with color and composition are the basic elements of photographic creation. When the source of light, its intensity, features and quality are practically uncontrollable -as happens almost always in travel photography- the challenge becomes formidable.
And all this without taking into account that very often you are facing a stranger you want to photograph, in a remote country, in an unusual environment; a person who speaks a language other than yours.You are facing a stranger you want to photograph, in a remote country, in an unusual environment; a person who speaks a language other than yours.
It is obvious that photographs are taken with heart and mind. The camera is a mere instrument.When the source of light, its intensity, its features and quality are practically uncontrollable -as happens almost always in travel photography- the challenge becomes formidable.
The best way to understand light is by watching it, being always receptive to light and its surroundings. It is advisable to pay attention to how other photographers, filmmakers and painters handle light. Study their work. Analyze what exactly in the images we admire impacts on us. Scrutinize light when we are in the street, see its effect on places and people in everyday life. A good photographer is primarily an observer, somebody who spends his life looking at light, colors and geometry. It is obvious that photographs are taken with heart and mind. The camera is a mere instrument. The problem is that without it, there is no way to produce photographs.
(Next article, "Why 80% of the best photos are taken on automatic mode")