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Ray of Light

I have to admit I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to natural light photography. I like to travel light (pardon the pun) and hate the added hassle of an off camera flash, light stands and diffusers. Whilst I can appreciate and sometimes enjoy the creativity involved in emulating and playing with natural light by use of an off camera flash, gels, diffusers, reflectors etc. I sometimes feel that in some studio shots for example, subjects can look beautifully lit, but a little dead behind the eyes, as no matter how quickly and effectively a photographer works, there's always the risk of losing that spontaneity or spark in the eyes and it's that natural, in the moment feel I'm looking for when capturing people at events.

Fundamentally, I'm a nature lover. I take my exercise outside and walk regularly - always with my camera in hand. It's almost a spiritual thing for me - and I'm not being pretentious. I feel calm and gain perspective when I'm outside amongst nature and truly love the shifting light each day brings...from the soft blue light of dawn...

....right through to golden hour just before the sun sets.

I love to work with the light I have. It's a moment in time never to be repeated and I can appreciate the beauty in any conditions. The aforementioned are good examples of the colour temperature of light, which is measured by something known as the Kelvin Scale. Put simply, the colour temperature of light is either warm or cold. Light and its intensity varies greatly.

Think of the long shadows created by a low winter sun and how amazing they look in black and white.

Shadows are another key element to understanding light. Morning light when the sun is climbing is angled at around 45 degrees. At midday, the light is beaming directly down onto us.

By sunset, light hits us sideways on. Shadows obviously behave differently at every stage.

Think of the drama a great cloud formation can offer as a backdrop.

Think of the skin tone friendly warmth offered by a golden summer sunbeam.

Think of that unforgiving white midday light or what I refer to as "flat white". No, I'm not talking coffee, but those overcast white cloud days. Well let me tell you that interest can be found even in this light. I tend to underexpose my images a little, deliberately, so that subject and foreground shadows can be lifted in the edit, retaining some definition to any clouds that do exist in the background.

I think working with natural light teaches you to be more creative with the mood conveyed in a photograph, rather than relying on external sources to literally fill in the gaps.

Not that I am taking away anything from photographers who habitually use a flash. Used correctly, artificial lighting can be an artform, but I enjoy challenging myself to get the best out of a situation in other ways.

A window or window seat can provide just the right amount of ambient light, giving an ethereal glow or an old masters look to a subject (face partially in shade).

Light travels in straight lines and I also love to take advantage of that and play up to it.

When I'm all out of natural light, I've also been known to use an iphone torch to help give me the look I'm going for. Also this is where my tripod can come in handy as wide open apertures and long exposures are your friend. That said, I do like to bump up my ISO (a camera's sensitivity to light) and embrace the grain that comes with higher ISO settings. It often adds atmosphere to an image.

Reflectors can also play a role in bouncing existing natural light up into a subject's face, illuminating shadowed eyes for example, or creating a little warmth where it's lacking. These can be handy if your subject is blocking the sun or natural light source.

So in summary, there are gadgets and gizmos galore to spend your hard earned cash on, but for me, it comes down to a few elements; my favourite lenses, maybe a reflector, shooting in RAW for maximum control over my photos and a knowledge of and devotion to natural light. Nature provides. It has got me this far.

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