Serene Life

by garik

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When I go out in a park what factors should I consider to determine whether the present light is too harsh or too soft?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Look at your own shadow. If you can't find your shadow then the light is as soft as it possibly can be. If you have a hard edged shadow then the light is hard. If you can make out your shadow but it's faint or the edges are not defined then you have somewhere in between (which can often give the best results).

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How should we adjust our camera settings after knowing the softness or sharpness of light then? Could you please refer us to a relevant article for further reading? –  Meysam Aug 2 at 7:32

The only factor that matters is what you are looking for visually in your shot. Harsh shadows, soft shadows, no shadows, these all can be valid to have in a photo. It depends on what you want it to look like. There is no right or wrong answer. Look at how the light falls on your subject and decide if you like it.

Soft shadows tend to have a more serene feel where as harsh shadows tend to have a more edgy feel and no shadows tends to have more of a cold feel (like a hospital exam room). They can also end up giving other feelings based on the type of shot though, so that list isn't exhaustive.

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Harsh light is more directional while soft light is more diffuse. In most cases this means that with a harsh light source you will experience a more contrasty scene than with soft light. So you may want to be very careful about correctly capturing highlights and shadows when shooting in harsh light. For most hi-end digital cameras underexposing is a safe bet. If your camera has a high dynamic range or dynamic range compression setting, you may want to manually set it to high. The photos will have less punch, but will be much more treatable in post.

So, apart from your taste and the requirements you have about the results you may have to consider what is too harsh for your capturing medium. Some sensors or some films (e.g. Slide film) tend to have a more limited dynamic range and difficult to expose well in harsh lighting conditions.

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