Rolling with the BIG Dog - Understanding Lighting - part 1 of 1 2 3 4

by Damian McGillicuddy Published 01/08/2016


Well hip, hip hooray - at long last, we've finally got a bit of summer! Which also means we've got our opportunity to take our cameras out, whether we're taking holiday pictures or simply snapping while we're travelling around, and shoot some photographs using the beautiful natural light and minimal, if any, supplemental lighting.

And that's fab to be able to do - shooting with ambient light is brilliant. However, there is a massive caveat here - if you are using ambient light and very little else, you can only create truly successful pictures if you fundamentally understand lighting. I can't emphasise that enough and it really is that simple.

Think about it this way - in our job, when we're controlling and lighting everything, we can be more narrative-led. So, in other words, the background can be whatever we want it to be, we choose the styling and the crop, we put the lights where we want them... it's all totally at our whim. When using ambient light, though, the issue becomes the fact that we can't move it, which means that the picture you take is dictated by the direction and the quality of the light.

So that has to take precedence over everything else, meaning that the parameters and goalposts of the game shift dramatically. We have to think of lighting first and everything else secondarily - which is why, even if you're shooting in the sun 'without any lights', you need a fundamental understanding of how light works if you hope to do so successfully. Take if from somebody who knows first hand how wrong it can go!



Many years ago I was shooting pictures for an engaged couple under the Widnes-Runcorn bridge. I was so excited about it, because the lad had a Lotus Carlton (which was a car that I'd dreamed about) and I'd got this fantastic location with a graffiti wall background in my mind and I just couldn't wait to take those photographs... and I just couldn't get them to work, no matter how hard I tried.

It got to the point where I was so frustrated that I calmly said to the couple, 'Okay, brilliant, it's all going great... how about we take a quick five-minute break to have a breather.' And I turned my back to hide the despondency plastered across my face, buried my face in my hands and began pacing away in the opposite direction not knowing what the heck I was going to do to make this picture work.

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1st Published 01/08/2016
last update 06/11/2019 11:08:57

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