Photography when it’s Ugly

As many photographers know, the best photos all depend on light. Light is the crux of any photo worth its salt, and being mindful of how light affects the overall composition, mood, and tone for a photo will ultimately make you a better photographer. You may look at an ugly forecast day or a bright day at high noon and say that the lighting is trash and that to wait for better lighting will make your photos better. I think, however, that this all depends on the kind of photography you’re doing.

If you specialize in specifically high-quality sunsets and sunrises, I know you’re already seeing this as a lost cause. But if you love photography and want to explore other versions while you wait for your perfect golden and blue hours, you may want to try creating photos in the kind of lighting I suggest here.

Photography as an artistic medium is no stranger to being subjected to standardized ideology. “The one best way” has been a staple idea thought about and attempted for over a century since the dawn of industrialization. Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas do a wonderful job of arguing against this ideology in their book Dark Horse, that is if you are interested in an interesting read on sociology and business. But that’s not what you’re reading this for, and trust me we’ll get there. The idea of standardization can blind us from the kinds of things we can achieve if we stop focusing on the “one good way to do something”. Of course, there are indisputable things about camera functions and the affect certain light has in certain situations. Of course, you should look to creators and experts in their field for guidance on the things you have an interest in. But I think the important thing to remember is that this is your artistic journey, and that you are allowed to take their ideas and use it, experiment with it and your own ideas, or ignore it all entirely and do whatever you want. Either way, knowledge is power.

Having prefaced this, I hope you will see things more easily from my perspective: great photos come from passion, and it is what you choose to do with what you have that will separate you from the herd. In truth I am still finding my photographic voice. I have so much passion that I find it hard to specialize, so I learn everything. Most will tell you that it’s not a smart move, but I digress. I love photography and I’m not going to restrict my passion because it isn’t seen as effective. I guess that’s my choice in ignoring the experts. In similar ways you will find people who think that they know the only good way to do photos is with a standard set of lighting and composition rules. While it is important to know these things, we shouldn’t be waiting to be experts to break those rules. In fact, thinking this way inhibited me from exploring new things with my camera for a long time. I used to take photos of everything that caught my attention. While now I take less photos and come away will many more that I like than I used to, I miss the freedom of exploration for exploration’s sake regardless of rules. Finding that happy medium has become my newest mission.

My big thing about the true topic at hand (lighting) is that “horrible” lighting has wonderful applications for the everyday photographer as long as they’re willing to explore and push themselves to work within their circumstance. We can’t change the weather, but we can change the way we think about it.

Rain is not ideal for electronics and you should make sure your gear is covered and protected. This can be a great deterrent for many photographers, but there are some cheap hacks that will help keep your gear safe. Start cheap and splurge when you have the money if you are interested in exploring more kinds of photography in this type of weather. I’ll find some links to photographers who have tricks for you and post them at the bottom. Just because rain is not ideal does not mean it is bad. There are amazing things you can do in landscape, portraiture, urban, and macro that are beautiful, fun, and hard to recreate in the sun without expensive filters or amazing Photoshop skills. Which, if you are not familiar with Photoshop yet (you should become aware of how to use it), then you’ll want the photo to be as amazing as humanly possible in-camera, as you will be unable to recreate rainy scenes when there was no rain. Photographing models or city streets in the rain is great because you can utilize more reflections in puddles, you can use new kinds of props (ex. Umbrellas, rain boots, etc.) that wouldn’t be appropriate in sunlight. Not to mention that this kind of lighting allows for you to accentuate bright colors to enforce juxtaposition and contrast.

Because of the way light is diffused with the clouds you can get amazing, even lighting on faces and pretty much all surfaces. This makes portraiture really great because the faces will look more natural, but in styles like macro, urban, and landscape it is THE perfect weather for anyone interested in black and white photography or if you have a moody style. This weather is perfect for expressing mood because it allows you to have more even tones and some really amazing darks. With few bright spots it makes the photos more ominous and interesting. Just going out in this weather and seeing what you can create is a fun challenge in and of itself. Remember to dress warmly and with gear that will protect you from the elements. The last thing you want is to be soaked because you forgot that you needed a rain jacket.

Go in with few expectations, and you will come away with some awesome results. One photographer who inspired me to appreciate this kind of weather is Serge Ramelli and I suggest you take a look at his video on landscape black and white photos in the rain (linked below).

Alternatively, stark and bright high noon light is seen as the other kind of lighting that is “off-limits”. This kind of light can be useful for any nature photographers that usually find difficulty getting clean shots in the forest on an overcast day where the lighting might be nicer. Having brighter light outside of the trees means more light within them for faster shutter speeds. Avian photography is particularly keen on requiring fast shutter speeds, so having that extra light is helpful particularly if you are using a camera with poor low light capabilities. Speaking of faster shutter speeds, this is great for any action shots too, and spending time in your local skate park, basketball court, or soccer field might yield some great results. My only suggestion is that you do not shoot anything that is all black because the contrast will be too great to adjust in post during this weather. I learned this the hard way when I took some awesome photos of a crow (right) and found myself annoyed with the amount of issues I had trying to adjust the contrast later.

For modes like landscape and urban photography, utilizing HDR has been my biggest friend. HDR is a mode through which you can take three images at three different exposures with the intent to merge them into one image later. This will bring back your highlights and shadows, expand the flexibility of you editing, and record more color information than is possible with one single photo, and if you’re not shooting in RAW by now, you are truly robbing yourself of the flexibility when adjusting things in post. There will be a link to videos below explaining HDR and RAW if you are unfamiliar. The last thing to remember in this lighting is for our portrait lovers. To prevent harsh shadows and squinting, place your model facing away from sunlight and towards you (as seen in photos above), and use this method whether you’re in trees, or in an open space. This will even out the shadows, lower the contrast, and they will squint far less. If it’s truly super bright out, the moving them into shade will help immensely if they can’t help but squint, just keep in mind where the sun is in relation to them, or use the “321” method from the video below where he suggests that you count down and then they open their eyes and you try to catch the photo before they start to squint. The added benefit to them facing away from the sun is that they will be back lit. If you find that the shadows on their face while being turned away from the sun is too intense, you can find reflector/diffuser combos for around $20-$30. If that is still out of your price range, then white Bristol board from a dollar store will work perfectly.

Are there any taboo lighting scenarios I missed? Let me know, and I’ll see if I can cover them in a later blog! Want to see me attempt these styles? I’m going to try releasing videos on alternating Tuesdays to the blog. Let me know what you’d like to see, but until then, remember to Capture everything, Create for the love of it, and brighten the Community with your art!

Helpful References:

Written By: Keshia Erin

Published by Caliburn Photography And Design

Small business in Edmonton specializing in Photography and Graphic Design by Keshia Erin. Capture. Create. Community.

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