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One Way to Control Light in Photography: Turn Day Into Night

One Way to Control Light in Photography: Turn Day Into Night

What time would you guess the images below were taken?  Look carefully…

controlling light in photography

Sunrise?  Sunset?  A few hours before sunset?  Just after sunrise? After dark?

Or might these silhouettes have been taken minutes after 2pm when the sun was high above – but under controlled lighting – using aperture, speed and ISO to create an illusion?

silhouette photo

If you guessed 2pm, you were right. The sky was mostly sunny with a few patches of clouds. In fact this image was taken moments before the ones above:

monkey bar photo

Are you wondering how I controlled my light in this way for a rich sky and silhouettes of Jenna? How did I create the illusion of darkness and sunset? I controlled my light.

I was getting bored shooting Jenna on the play equipment.  After 25 times across the money-bars, I wanted to spice things up.  I had the need to create art rather than just capture the moment.  To start, I used the patches of clouds floating by to cover part of the sun.  I literally laid down in the wood chips and looked up to get an interesting angle.  Yes, the sacrifices you make for a picture.  With this new perspective, Jenna looked as if she was near the sky, when in actuality the monkey-bars are probably 8 feet high. I was using my Tamron 28-300 Lens, and shot these at 28mm on my Canon 5D MKII.

Next step, change my settings.  I needed to reduce light.  I shot at ISO 160.  I actually thought I was at 100 but looking at my camera data, I must have moved that slightly by accident.  Next, I wanted to reduce light by stopping down on my aperture.  I usually shoot fairly wide open (the photo I shot prior to the silhouettes was at f/4.0, which is wide for this zoom lens). So I went from a 4.0 aperture to f22.  Lastly I set my speed – I was metering for the sky, rather than the person.  I chose 1/400.  These speed is fast enough to get sharp shots even when Jenna was swinging on the bars.

Snap – Snap – Snap.  I knew exactly what I wanted.  I had a 90% keep ratio.  I took 10 images, and kept 9 of them.  I did check the back of my camera after the 1st to see that my settings worked just perfect.  To get images like these, you need to learn to shoot manual, if you do not already.  You need to understand how to control light through ISO, speed, and aperture. If the terms ISO, Aperture, and Speed confuse you, and want to learn how to control light and shoot manually with your camera, you will benefit from the following two readings: the Understanding Exposure Book and Photography Nuts and Bolts E-Book.

Now it is your turn, please share images where you controlled the light by using your camera settings, off camera flash, etc.  I look forward to seeing your photographs too.

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15 Comments

  1. May 26, 2010 at 9:22 am —

    Thanks for this! I love the look of closing down my aperture for sunflare…the color is awesome! Thanks for sharing!

  2. May 26, 2010 at 9:32 am —

    Here’s one of my first (not the 1st) using off camera flash. The sun sets around 8:10 and this was taking at 5:30. I used an alien bee with a softbox. Shot in manual at 100 ISO. You can still see some of the light specs in what looks to be a black background.

  3. Jeanine
    May 26, 2010 at 9:33 am —

    I took this at the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. We were leaving before I wanted to, so I had to get creative. In LR I increased blacks and bumped Blue in Hue +10, but that is all – the rest was in camera. I often use your tip of shooting the sun around f/22. Love it, thanks!

  4. May 26, 2010 at 11:53 am —

    To paraphrase David Hobby, with enough light you can turn a bright day into night.

  5. May 26, 2010 at 12:42 pm —

    Jodi, these are beautiful. I love the one of her on the monkey bars and the clouds in the background. It looks as if she’s up in the heavens. Such a difference. I love how you wanted to change things up a bit and create art.

  6. May 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm —

    I took this picture (at the FABULOUS Nicole Van workshop) at approx 4:15 in the afternoon, but to me, the sun looks more like the moon!

  7. Here is a photo I took at my last senior session. I manipulated the lighting in an ally way (my favorite locations are usually in allies, excellent spot to get creative with lighting).

    It was shot around 3:30pm in the afternoon.

  8. May 26, 2010 at 9:59 pm —

    And another one. Shot midday.

  9. Jennifer King
    May 27, 2010 at 1:01 am —

    WOW, those shots are beautiful. Here’s my question: I understand ISO, Aperture, and fstop. I’ve been shotting in manual for 3 years. I get consistent portrait shots. However, anything “artistic” seems like a mystery to me. When I read HOW to accomplished this, I go oh yeah, I totaly get that… but if you asked me to create that same image by controlling the light myself I would have no idea how to get the sky that color thru light control. I’ve done silhouetting, with the bright sun behind the subject but beyond the sun being blocked through the person and the person is all blacked out, that’s all I got. How to you intuitively connect the dots and put all of this together, so *knowing* exactly WHAT settings to use to get an effect like this. I need much more practice with that aspect and I’d love to know how you mastered this. 🙂

  10. Jennifer King
    May 27, 2010 at 1:02 am —

    haaa, update to my last post, add shutter speed to the list too… I know that aperture and fstop are the same thing. *blush*

  11. May 27, 2010 at 10:12 am —

    I added the MCP banner to my website! Ya for me!
    http://www.photographybysylvia.net/

  12. June 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm —

    Jodi~ OK, coolest thing I’ve ever seen! I used to “wait” until sunset to get such a picture. What a fantastic tip!! Thank you!! 🙂

  13. Catherine Brody
    November 24, 2010 at 12:52 pm —

    I took this image using ISO 100, shot at 28mm, shutter speed 1/400 and f stop was at 4.0

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One Way to Control Light in Photography: Turn Day Into Night