Storm Light (With Help)

Weirdness in the sky.
Weirdness in the sky.

Storm coming. That’s what this picture meant at the time.

Temperatures dropped. Rain came. Sleet came. No dog wanted to go outside. They did. Because they had to. I went outside too. Because I had to.

I thought this would be a good time to talk about light. Light is one of the main elements of our pictures. As I’ve written repeatedly, photography is Greek for “writing with light.” For some people, I’m learning, photography is all Greek to them. Just keep practicing, reading and learning. It’ll come to you after a while.



But first let me do a little shameless marketing. I Googled “qualities of light,” mostly to make sure I remember the correct terms. I came up tenth on the first page. This after a number of sites that describe theater lighting. I guess that I have some idea about the subject. Hopefully.

I really have to be careful to discuss how light affects your pictures. And, not  talk in all the technical jargon, which confuses anybody. Me included.

I believe that in the digital world you want the cleanest file possible. You can enhance it later in post production. However, you can’t add or subtract from shadows, so I like to work at the ends of the day. Light is usually warm. Shadows are usually long. And, contrast is fairly deep which is one of the hallmarks of my work.

If you have a choice between warm and cold light, unless you are working for something very specific, warm is usually better than cold. If we want to get a little scientific, cold light is lower on a chart, which looks like something like:

Red               780 to 622 nm

Orange         622 to 597 nm

Yellow           597 to 577 nm

Green           577 to 492 nm

Blue              492 to 455 nm

Violet            455 to 390 nm

nm is 1 Nanometer

A spectrum looks like this on your computer screen once it’s been calibrated:

D50     5000K

D55      5500K

D65      6500K

D75       7500K

D50 is the standard scientific shorthand for basic daylight. It is warmer than D75. However D65 is daylight shorthand for which cameras and monitors are normally balanced. Your goal on a finished image is a D65 white point, with many exceptions. Many, many, many exceptions. Making perfect daylight color means that you might subtract the mood and feel from the image. Just know that the lower you go on the spectrum, the warmer the image becomes. And, the higher you move, the colder the image becomes.

As an example, I once worked for a boss who thought that I printed images on book pages too red. She kept saying that most people didn’t look at books in perfect light the way we did on a printing press. I agree. And, we always accounted for that.

At one point, I took all the magenta out of the page. She said it was still too red. How could that be, I wondered? There is no red ink being applied to the page. Yes. Yellow is a little warm, but it doesn’t show up as red without magenta ink.

She was working in Dallas. Texas. I was working in Hong Kong. China. When I returned, a buddy of mine and I went into her office. She had the overhead light turned off and was only using a small desktop lap.  This is nice and comforting if you aren’t doing anything that required color accuracy. At home, we light our kitchen pretty dimly. Anyway, we measured the light with a color meter. Sure enough the light in her office was about 2500 K. Anything viewed in there would look too red. Even something with a lot of blue. Well, not quite. It would look purple.

This is important to you for a number of reasons. Especially if you photograph people or work in meeting rooms that are lighted with older flourescent lights.


People really should look like people unless you are working in light that tells you where they are. For instance, if you are photographing musicians on a stage, let the stage lights do their thing. No. The musicians won’t have flesh tones. They might have skin that is blue or red or yellow. But, that’s the whole point of stage lighting. On the other hand, if you are making something a little more traditional like a portrait or wedding pictures, people probably should have normal flesh tones.

Offices and interiors and such are often lighted with old style flourescent lights. The light quality is green. Higher on the spectrum. You can’t see it with your eye. But, you certainly can see it on a digital image or a piece of film. You have to be a little careful with that. Ever since studies appeared that said warmer light is closer to daylight and makes workers happier, interior light has been changing.

There are a couple of ways to correct odd light spectrums. One is to use a color meter. And, adjust accordingly.  That’s what location studio photographers do. Color meters are very expensive. But, they are dead on accurate. In the film world you would add certain filers that were measured from weak to strong. You can do that in the digital world as well. Or, can can just reset the light balance in the camera to match your dominant light source. You don’t even need an expensive meter. There are disc shaped devices that fit over your lens that will help you to balance the color in the camera. Or, with newer cameras, you can let the camera do the “seeing” for you.

Remember if you manage color while you are shooting it makes post production a whole lot easier IF you are making pictures from one scene with one kind of lighting. You must remember to reset your camera after you are done. Or, post production gets a whole lot harder. Trust me on that. Heh. Shooting something in daylight using settings for an inside room is no fun.

You can also use strobes with colored gels to help control the light spectrum. That gets a little complicated and time-consuming. But, if the subject or assignment is very important — they all are to me — that’s a very good way to work.

What do I do?

As usual, it depends. For the images you see here on Storyteller, I usually set the camera on auto white balance or just set it to daylight and let the chips — er, color — fall where they may. I also use what Sony and Nikon call “vivid” color. That suits my own personal color palette.

The picture. It was made with a daylight setting and modified — heavily — in post production. I was looking for that light you see when a big storm is blowing. The picture says winter to me. That’s the thing. You can make your original file any way that you want. As long as you have that, you can pretty much do whatever you want in post production.


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