Saturday, June 5, 2010

It's the light, not the camera

The first thing people usually ask me when they see a nice image of mine is, "What kind of camera do you have?" That's usually not the right question. The camera and lens can make a difference, to be sure. But when it comes to outdoor shots, the quality of light is so much more important.

You can correct a lot of problems in a digital image with photoshop. But you can't transform an image captured in bad light into a good photograph. Unless, of course, you are looking for some funky, stylized look.

For these images of Julie the light on the beach was darn near perfect. Typically at 10:15 in the morning the light would have been too bright and harsh for good portrait shots. But the storm clouds brought some ideal conditions, at least for about 15 minutes. I almost missed it. I was taking some shots of the storm on the beach, when Julie and Becky walked by me toward the waterfront. I was heading back inside when I looked back at them and realized how ideal the light was.

The storm was moving in from the Southwest. The Sun was pretty high in the East, but its light was diffused because of light cloud cover. So you had diffused light in the sky, and that light was also hitting the white sand and reflecting upwards. All of that meant no shadows. Add to that the dark blue/purple clouds in the background and you got magical possibilities (and the iPad didn't have anything to do with it).

If you want to capture good to great images, learn about the light. Ignore the camera companies. It's not about how many megapixels your camera can swallow. I should also say that these images of Julie were captured with my so-so Nikon 18-200mm lens. It's not a very good portrait lens. But I didn't have access to my Nikon 105mm or even my 55mm or 35mm prime lenses. You use what you have. The quality of light is more important than the camera or lens (assuming, of course, you do have something better than a cell phone camera).

You can see more of these beach images here.