Guide to Photography Part 2: Light

Use any kind of light to create the best photos

By Ignatius Koh   May 11, 2018

Welcome to the second part of this basic photography guide. Previously, we learnt about framing. In this article, we tackle lighting conditions that you can almost never control. Some days we find ourselves cheering the brilliant sunshine, other days we lament the clouds and impending rain. But hopefully with this guide, you can face any kind of light head on and take the perfect photo.

Overview

Before we begin, I will outline some of the more common light conditions you can expect on a day out and go through them one by one. We have regular light (meaning the photo taken will look almost like what you see with your eyes), harsh light, low light, and golden hour. Again, most of these photos can be taken with a phone and pose no issues to those without a DSLR.

Regular Light

The term "regular light" is just a layman term that refers to the sort of light that creates a photo that hardly needs editing. It is probably the easiest light condition to take photos in (but not necessarily the best) because the colours are what you would expect — exactly how you see it in real life. But don't count on having this kind of light always occurring, especially in a place like Japan where weather conditions can be unpredictable.

Regular light at Lake Tazawa in Akita produces an almost uniform blue in the photo
Regular light at Lake Tazawa in Akita produces an almost uniform blue in the photo

Harsh Light

On a typical sunny and cloudless day, this light emerges from around 12-4pm. There is hardly any shade and you're sweating buckets trying to take a photo that doesn't have the sky looking overexposed. But when the light up top is too much, it's time to focus on the ground instead. Harsh light creates superb silhouettes and shadows that make dramatic photos when framed correctly. Aim your camera to where the shadows are and you might find yourself with a great image. For landscapes under harsh light, frame it such that as little sky is shown as possible to prevent the entire photo from looking blown out.

On any street, you will see shadows when the sunlight is harsh, so wait for the right moment and take your dramatic picture
On any street, you will see shadows when the sunlight is harsh, so wait for the right moment and take your dramatic picture

Low Light

Without steady hands, tripod, or a fast camera, taking photos in low light conditions can be tough. In many cases, you have to make use of the artificial light from street lights or neon signboards to create your photo, which makes Tokyo perfect for honing this craft. The capital's endless streaks of lights can help create photos that evoke certain moods, and these aren't impossible to do.

In low light, use whatever light there is to your advantage to create silhouettes
In low light, use whatever light there is to your advantage to create silhouettes

Cloudy

An overcast day can also add drama to a photo as much as a day with harsh lighting. Furthermore, the clouds act as a natural filter so that the light is softer than it would normally be. While everything might seem grey and boring, editing the photos may bring out different layers within the photo and can add depth to a landscape that wasn't seen before. Look for instances where framing might help to turn a seemingly bland scenery into something wistful or mystical.

Cloudy days tend to be dreary but with some editing and the right framing, you can improve the quality of your photo
Cloudy days tend to be dreary but with some editing and the right framing, you can improve the quality of your photo

Golden Hour

This is everyone's favourite time of the day to take photos. The golden yellow light spilling over the horizon and with the sun rising or setting, it's an image that must be captured. The hardest part about golden hour would be to avoid taking the sun directly, especially if you're on a phone. It's easy to face the sun and take a photo if you have the right camera settings and filters but for phone users, try aiming 90 degrees away from the sun so that the glare doesn't affect your image that much.

Golden hour is where most people get their money shot as the light is beautiful and not too harsh
Golden hour is where most people get their money shot as the light is beautiful and not too harsh

Japan Travel Editor

Join the discussion

Scott Brause 2 months ago
Thanks again, very helpful advice!
Ignatius Koh Author 2 months ago
I'm happy you liked the guide, Scott!