Photography and light

Let there be light . . .


Photography and light•Let there be light . . . Moonbeams Shop

Whether you use a simple point-and-click camera of a something more sophisitcated, there is one thing your camera can’t manage without - light

Go to: Too little lightToo much lightWhat you can doI got it wrong. What do I do now?

All cameras work the same basic way. Light travels from the subject to the camera, and is focussed by the camera’s lens onto a screen inside the camera, which records the image. In modern cameras that screen is an electronic device; previously it was a chemical film. Modern cameras can adjust the lens focus automatically, and even make small changes to the way the image is recorded, but the basic process remains as described above.

Without light the camera can not work.

Too little light

One of the commonest problems with photos that we are asked to print is that they were taken in conditions that didn’t provide sufficient light. This can have a number of possible effects:

Often the photo may show both of these problems.

We have some fairly clever photo processing software at Moonbeams, and can sometimes process the photograph to improve it, but only up to a point. We can lighten a dark image but it may appear grey and lacking detail. We can’t recreate detail that the camera never captured. The example below shows the effect of brightening a dark image. Image 1 is the way the photo should have been taken. Imagine that it was actually taken like Image 2. Brightening it makes it look like Image 3.

Image 1 Correct Moonbeams Shop Photography and light
Image 1: Correct

Image 2 Too dark Moonbeams Shop Photography and light
Image 2: Too dark

Image 3 Brightened Moonbeams Shop Photography and light
Image 3: Brightened

You can take photos in low light if you use a flash. Most modern cameras use the flash automatically, if the camera detects that there isn’t enough light without it. This can work for close up photos, but be aware that the flash gun has finite power and so finite range - usually a few metres. It can’t, for example, light up the RMS out at anchor if you’re standing on the wharf.

If you don’t have a flash, or don’t want to use it, you may be able to set the camera to use a longer exposure. This means it takes longer to take the photograph, so more light gets into the camera. But this won’t work if either you or the subject is moving, as explained in our page Photography and movement.

Too much light

The converse happens if there is too much light. The photo can appear bleached. We can darken it but, again, we can’t recreate detail that the camera never captured.

And if some of the subject is in bright sunlight and the rest is in deep shadow, you can get the worst of both worlds - neither part of the picture is properly lit.

What you can do

The solution to all these problems, for most photos, is in the composition. Make sure that the actual subject you want to photograph is correctly lit, or close enough to the camera for the flash to be effective, even if the background is not. Do that and the average snapshot will be a photograph you will want to keep.

For more specialist photos, such as black cats in dark rooms or photographs of the moon and stars, you need more specialist advice than we can provide here. Have a look on the Internet or in a good library, or maybe even pop in for a chat - we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

I got it wrong. What do I do now?

Got a photo that’s too dark, too light or has some other error? We may be able to help.

We hope you find these tips useful. If you have any feedback or suggestions please contact us.

Please note: we take customer confidentiality very seriously. We never share any customer photo with anyone else without the customer’s explicit permission.


•Photo tips: Photography Tips Index.

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