Ask a photographer what the most important aspect of a good photo is, and they will tell you it’s good light.
Lighting will make or break a photograph. You could have the most interesting subject in the world, but if it isn’t lit well then you may as well forget about it. From softboxes to strobe lights; flashguns to Rotalights, we have come with wonderful ways of ensuring our sensors capture the best possible images. Unlike manufactured light, however, ambient light is much trickier to take control of. It often requires being a tad more creative and working with what you’ve got. That, overall, demands an adaptable mind that enjoys playing around. With the great work being produced underneath the earth’s sun – let’s take a look at the modern-day masters of natural light.
Jeff Karp (@jefferymkarp)
I have been a long time admirer of the work of Jeff Karp. Creating images through either his Fuji X100F or his iPhone X, Karp has some truly exceptional photographs in his body of work. Always filled with crisp lighting, his images have a clean-cut feel. Karp frames his subjects around strong contrasting light and bold, impressive architecture – dwarfing them in the process. His the pop of colour that is present in all his images, make them able to cross-over from street photography to artistic pieces.
When Karp is not out on the streets, he is in the studio shooting portraits. His portraiture follows a key lighting approach, his subjects visible amongst a sea of darkness. It is evident that this eye for lighting crosses over onto the streets, as he follows the same lighting rule.
Although his work is heavily focused on minimalism, it’s certainly not basic. It takes a lot of skill to be able to bring many components together, such as light, architecture, and humanity to make a simple yet beautiful photo. Study his work, take in all the elements, and go see if you can come up with something similar.
Knowing When to Shoot
A large part of mastering natural light is knowing the best time to shoot. By studying the best, I have learnt that they are extremely disciplined when it comes to going out and taking photos. Some photographers have a preference for soft light, so will only go out and shoot on a cloudy day. Whilst others prefer a more contrasting light, meaning you will only see them shooting as the sun comes up and goes down.
The more time you spend with light that best suits you, the more you understand it. All masters are experts on what they do.
Personally, when it comes to shooting in natural light, I prefer to see clouds in the sky, acting as a softbox for the sun. When light is evenly spread, it challenges me to build more of a story in my images, rather than just relying on light and shadows to make the image for me. Even, soft light is also great for getting a street portrait, as lights your subject perfectly.
Kat Saradinova (@kackaska)
Kat Saradinova is an extremely versatile, talented photographer. Her work has a range of colour, minimalism, light and storytelling. Many photographers use light as the main draw to their images. At times, they can be guilty of hiding weak subjects behind good lightening. This is certainly not the case for Saradinova. Not only does she have a high understanding of good lightning, but she is also able to build a narrative into her images at the same time.
Saradinova is able to create strong images in all forms of natural light. This makes her a stand out photographer within the field.
Craig Whitehead (@sixstreetunder)
Craig Whitehead is a street photographer based in London. Having built up a strong reputation over the past couple of years, his work is heavily featured online and he runs a successful workshop all around the world. His photography is inspiring. Supporters of his work are often left asking ‘how did you do that?’. From silhouettes to optical illusions, Whitehead really is a true master of natural light. Looking through his impressive portfolio, you may be reminded of one the greatest to ever do it, Saul Leiter. Using, shape, colour and composition, Whitehead takes Leiter’s concept, makes it his own and brings into the modern day.
What I find most interesting about his approach to photography, is his full transparency policy. The image featured above has come under some intense scrutiny on social media. People have questioned the authenticity of the image, suggesting it may have been manufactured digitally. Whitehead has shown the public the original raw file of the photograph, and apart from some minor changes to the shadows, the edit is not too far removed from the original. Minimal edits show that he is mastering the light in the camera.
Go be a Master
Here you have 3 photographers that I feel are really setting the standard. They know their cameras, they know their angles, and most importantly they know their light.
Go spend time shooting in different lighting conditions. See which best suits you and which light gives you the kind of images you are going for. Then, practice, practice and practice some more.