It’s all about the light

Turbine Hall

Turbine Hall

The difference between a good photograph and a mediocre one normally comes down to one thing – the quality and direction of the light.  This can be illustrated quite easily by looking at two photographs taken within minutes of each other in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London.

Turbine Hall 2

The main difference between the two photographs is that in the second one a cloud had covered the sun removing the dramatic lighting that fills the Turbine Hall between 5.30 and 6.00 during the summer months.  When taking a shot like the first one you need to make a few decisions.

First how is it to be exposed?  Expose for the shadows and the highlights will burn out.  Expose for the highlights and all of the detail is lost in the darker areas of the photograph. When faced with a scene like this an option is to select spot metering on the camera and expose on the cusp between the light and dark areas.  If your camera has an electronic viewfinder (like the Fujifilm X-T1) then it should show you how the photo is likely to look before you take the shot.

You can then use the exposure compensation dial (if you have one) to fine tune the image and if possible set the camera to shoot in RAW rather than JPEG as this will give you far more options when it comes to processing on your computer.

Once you are satisfied that the settings are correct then it all comes down to patience.  You want to get dramatic shadows to complement any people in the frame which means you want them walking in the lighted strips – the only problem is that when people are walking towards a bright light source it is often more comfortable on the eyes to walk in the shadowy areas which is no good for your photo so you will get a lot of misses before you end up with a photograph you are happy with!

A few considerations include making sure the people in the photo do not overlap (this approach makes it a far cleaner image and should be considered for many shots of people together).  Using the bright sun to backlight hair can make the subject more easily visible against a dark background and adding in the mirror effect of the glass wall on the right can double the dramatic effect of the window.  The only other thing I did with this photo was to stop down the lens in order to maximise the starburst effect on the sun (I think that the slight added noise of using a higher ISO is worth it).

Settings were 1/200 of a second at f/22 and 1600 ISO and the photograph was taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 and 18-55mm zoom lens.  The photo was developed in Lightroom 5 with Silver Efex Pro 2.

About photoponica

A documentary style photographer - started with film now shooting digital with the Fuji X system.
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4 Responses to It’s all about the light

  1. andybeel says:

    Hi as you say photograph the light not the subject. With digital expose for the highlights and process for the shadows. With film it was the other way around. Thanks Andy

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