Along with learning about composition and all the technical parts of taking a photo one of the most important things you need to bear in mind is light. In reality this is probably the most essential element – after all that is where the word photo comes from. The ability to make the most of the lighting available (whether it is natural or a set up) is what I think takes a photographer to the next level. Being aware of the light is so important in composing a scene and learning about light and knowing how it will influence your picture is an important skill.
So I thought I would put together a basic exercise to help you see the light a little more and understand it from a practical perspective.
Step 1. Take an object. Anything really but probably something that is easily moveable and sits on a table top.
Step 2. Find a window. For round one I would suggest a window that is not receiving direct light (what that means is the sun is not shining directly inside)
Step 3. Place your object on a table or surface as close to the window as possible.
Step 4. Take a picture with the window to the side of the object
Step 5. Take a picture with the window behind the object. You can change your settings so that the object is either silhouetted against the outside or overexpose the background so that it is blown out and the object is correctly exposed.
Step 6. Take a picture with the window behind you and the object in front of you.
This picture hopefully explains step 4 to 6 if you are confused. The orange circle is the object and the grey circle with arrow is the camera direction.
Step 7. Play around with your settings and make a note of what the light is doing in the picture.
Here are some examples I took with the above scene.
You can do this again by changing the object to see how features cast shadows, or ask a person! The trick is then to spot these lighting set ups in ‘real life’ situations. Even if you don’t have your camera to hand make a note of what the light is doing. What happens when you stand under a tree? If you are in a narrow alley? In a doorway, tunnel, etc.
These are examples of a ‘simple’ lighting set up with a single light source. When you are a natural light photographer you will generally have one light source – the sun (unless you throw reflectors and multiple windows into the mix). Here are some real life examples with notes.
Of course with backlighting you can also create silhouettes.
I hope you find this helpful but let me know if you have any questions! This is also a great article on seeing light if you want to go a bit deeper.