Using Daylight for Photography

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"Photography is painting with light". This remains as true now as when it was first uttered.  You will get a good picture from a very simple instamatic camera if the lighting is correct.

So how best to light your photos?

The choice can be bewildering - should you use halogen or tungsten lights?  How many watts?

Instead of thinking about wattage, photographers think in degrees Kelvin -  the unit for measuring light.

A candle flame measures 1500 degrees Kelvin, pure daylight on a clear blue sunny day is around 8000 degrees.

How many degrees Kelvin should you be using to light your photos?  What light sources should you consider? What are the pros and cons of each?

Understanding Degrees Kelvin

The different degrees indicate different colours on the colour spectrum.  Daylight at 5000 degrees will give full-spectrum white with accurate colour rendering.  Using daylight to light your photos will result in true colours in the final image.

 Fluorescent light at 3500 degrees K by contrast will give you a green cast on your pictures.

Tungsten -  normal home lights - at 2700 degrees K will give a red cast resulting in a yellowish tinge to the final image.

Tungsten Halogen at 3200 is more on the red side but overlaps with the green a bit.

Outdoor shadows on a sunny day at around 4500 will cast a blue light. If you light your photos with daylight you won't need to adjust the colours of the final image. 

This is something to bear in mind if you are using a simple camera. If you are using a light source that gives a colour cast you may be able to correct the colour at the time of taking the photo: a lot of cameras have auto colour correction, some allow you to set it manually using symbols of a lightbulb for tungsten, or a fluorescent tube for fluorescent.

If your camera doesn't have colour correction you can alter the image with picture editing software (like GIMP or Photoshop), but the results will not render colour as accurately as using daylight to light your picture.

Bear in mind that shooting correctly to start with significantly reduces editing and correction time.

Great photos using a simple automatic camera.

If you have a simple automatic camera don't panic -  you don't need to upgrade to a complicated model to take effective shots.  Bearing in mind that tungsten and fluorescent lights cause a colour cast you should use daylight to shoot your pictures.  A cloudy day outside is perfect as the light is gentle and diffused.  On a very sunny day the light creates harsh shadows so you are better off shooting in shadow, under trees for example.  As outdoor shadows may cast a blue light photographers reduce this by using reflectors.  You can use white sheets or large bits of white cardboard to reflect some light back onto the object to be shot.  It will help correct the colour balance and reduce the blue cast.  Alternatively position your shot near a light toned object, a white wall or even a white car for example, to give a white tone to the picture.

If it's raining or you'd prefer to shoot inside, turn off your normal household lights and use the ambient light from a window. And what if you prefer to take photos at night? You can use Daylight bulbs.  These can be used with a normal light socket and at 5000+ Kelvin give full-spectrum colour.

Full-spectrum Daylight lamps significantly reduce eye strain so people work more comfortable using them both for craft where colour matching is important and for reading.  As a result anyone can benefit from the use of a full-spectrum light.  And they'll stop you getting the winter blues!

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