Skill Level: Intermediate
Course length: 4 weeks
Next start date: 4th January
This is a must-do course, for any serious photographer who wishes to take their photography to the next level. A thorough understanding of light and exposure is at the very heart of photography and although initially quite technical, having competed this course, you will have an insight into a vast array of photography subjects which will allow you focus on the areas you most enjoy.
Hi, I’m Nigel Hicks, and welcome to this course on Understanding Light and Exposure. Many people, whether new to photography or quite experienced, struggle to make the best use of light, and as a result don’t manage to produce images of the quality they would like. This course aims to help overcome this problem, enabling you to get great shots more easily and reliably.
The first half of the course leads you through an understanding of the fundamentals of light and exposure, and so by its very nature tends to cover the more technical points of the subject. Having understood the theory, the second half of the course deals with the creative side, and allows us to explore photography’s great themes, beginning in Lesson 3 with the natural world, taking in landscapes and nature, and concluding in Lesson 4 with the human environment, namely how to photograph people and our buildings.
By the end of the course you will have a solid grounding in the nature of what light and exposure are, coupled with the skills needed to reproducibly generate a wide range of image types, from family portraits to stunning landscapes.
Lesson 1: The Nature of Light
Lesson 1 introduces the very nature of what light is and how it impacts upon the world of photography. Without getting technical, I explain how and why visible light consists of a mixture of different colours, why we see the world around us as having a vast array of colours, and why the nature and indeed colour of the light around us varies with the time of day. I then lead you through the way in which this evolution of the nature and colour of light through the day affects photography in the sense of changes in mood and aesthetics. While much of this lesson considers the nature of light as it affects the great outdoors, there will also be a section on indoor light, both how natural light works here, and the nature of artificial lighting. The lesson concludes with a section describing how the camera interprets light and its colour under different natural and manmade conditions.
Lesson 2: Using Light to Great Effect
Lesson 2 looks at how to make use of light in general photographic situations. The first step will be to review how the camera makes a correct exposure, from light metering to the balance between shutter speed and lens aperture, along with how to understand, assess and control exposure. I then move on to look at the importance of highlights and shadows in an image, and how it is possible to both control and make use of these in creating meaningful, atmospheric images. Linked to this is an understanding of the effects of the sun’s height in the sky, coupled with the effects of its angle relative to both the subject and the photographer. This takes in consideration of the types of images that will result from the three classic sun angles: namely frontal lighting (the sun shining directly onto the subject’s front), side-lighting, and back-lighting, the last of these generating silhouettes that can be hugely effective. This is coupled with a guide to low-light photography, shooting at sunrise and sunset, as well as nighttime city lights. The use of flash is introduced, for use in both low-light and bright light situations, and the lesson will finish off with a summary of how to make photographic use of light, both natural and manmade, indoors.
Lesson 3: Light in Photography’s Major Themes 1: Landscapes and Nature
Lesson 3 shows how to apply the general understanding of light and how to use it to photography of the natural world, whether landscapes or animals and plants. The crucial role of natural light in establishing mood and colour in a natural landscape is emphasized, and then specific techniques to be used in different situations described. These include photography during the ‘golden’ hours at the start and end of the day, the power of the silhouette, and the use of filters to control exposure in different parts of a scene. Landscapes concludes with a look at how to make use of sunless days, photographing close-up details or shooting in such places as woodlands. Wildlife photography begins with an introduction to the best ways to use natural light in photographing flowers, before moving on to consider photography of larger animals, both in sunlight and in duller conditions. This lesson concludes with photography of bugs and other flying insects, photographing them mainly using a handheld camera coupled with flash.
Lesson 4: Light in Photography’s Major Themes 2: People and Architecture
Lesson 4 concludes the course by leading the student through ways to use light to photograph the human environment, namely people and their buildings. I look first at building exteriors, showing how to photograph both entire buildings and close details using light skills borrowed from landscape photography. This moves on to consider the photography of interiors, using both natural and a variety of manmade light sources to light up the internal space, generating images that range from the fashionably ‘clean’ or minimalist typical for many public spaces, to cosy and homely for the domestic scene. This leads into people photography, concentrating mainly on the candid type of portraiture, caught both outdoors and inside, using natural and manmade light. The importance of controlling the way in which the lighting – even natural light outdoors – falls on the face will be emphasized, aiming to minimize the problems caused by the presence of bright highlights and deep shadows.
To understand more about how it all works, go to the 'How it Works' section!