I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical. Trent Parke
I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical.
As street photographers we all aspire to make the ordinary people and ordinary places we see every day really stand out. We want to elevate them above the ordinary and take photos of them that turn into something special.
We can do this is many ways, like photographing something amusing or using juxtapositioning. But there is one way to elevate even the most ordinary of subjects into something really special.
Light is the fundamental element of photography. The practice of photography is all about the capture of light. How you expose an image, i.e. how much light you let into the camera, determines whether the photo will be too dark or to light.
But there are certain types of light that can really make images great, that can change the mood and the style of a shot. Light and the way you photograph it can really make or break a photo.
So here are some ideas around light that you can use to make your street photos really stand out.
Shafts of light can occur in many different conditions. When the sun streams through a break in the clouds, when it is only seen because there is a gap in tall buildings and through foliage too. They generally, although not always, occur when the sun is lower in the sky.
The light can be hard and directional or soft and diffuse depending on both the time of day and if anything is obstructing its path. You can use shafts of light to create really atmospheric photos.
The shadows that light (or rather the absence of light) makes can be very interesting in themselves. They can be the whole reason for taking the photo. They can be something graphic, creating a pattern, or they can be more mysterious, creating intrigue.
As well as being the whole reason for taking an image they can also just be part of it, adding a different dimension to an otherwise ordinary photo.
You can also use shadows to take self-portraits. The most interesting type of self-portrait shadow is where there use some element of fun or juxtapositioning, rather than just your shadow on the ground in front of you.
©Alex Webb/Magnum Photos
Reflections are a great way to use light, especially in a town or city. Many business districts in cities have large glass fronted offices that can provide interesting reflections of the people on the street. Windows of cafes and puddles can give you reflections that can work well.
Remember to look for reflections in less obvious places, like the shiny paint on posts and even in car mirrors.
You can often get more interesting reflections if you photograph close to the ground or right up against a building.
Lights at night can provide you with some really interesting photos. You can use them to light up people as they pass through them, or they can make interesting photos in themselves.
Colored lights can also make interesting reflections in puddles or shiny surfaces.
Watch for spaces where people are in pools or areas of light, such as cafes or under street lamps. If you expose for the light then you will still be able to handhold your camera and you won't need to carry a tripod around with you.
When you are photographing areas where part of the photo is really bright (patches of light) or really dark (shadows) you are unlikely to be able to get detail in both of those areas at once. You will need to decide which part of the image is the most important and whether you expose your image for detail in the highlights or in the shadows.
Nothing happens when you sit at home. Elliott Erwitt
Nothing happens when you sit at home.
So often we want to get better at something but we just never seem get started. So I hope this blog post has inspired you to go out and take some amazing photos of light.
If you want to share any of your images with the rest of the community then please use our Facebook page Facebook:The Street Photography Hub. I look forward to seeing your photos.