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How to Tell Stories With Light

July 12, 2013 Adventure, Books, Lighting Strobe Flash, Techniques 5 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

As we document the world with our cameras, light is a crucial ingredient to successful photographs. It’s that light that tells the story we want told. It tells us the shape of the land with highlights and shadows. It can tell us the temperature outdoors with cool light or warm light. Light can tells us whether the subject is soft or rough or large or small.

Light tells the story of the subject!

It is these stories that are important to convey and if you have a photograph that does not tell the story you want told, consider the lighting as one reason.

Whether photographing outside or inside, we don’t always have the light we need so the solution to that problem is to Make Light! With a basic flash unit you can create light that tells the story you want told.

What do I mean? Imagine it this way. It’s winter in the mountains, near a ski area, and there is a lovely log cabin covered in snow. The sun has set and the temperature is dropping. The lights inside the cabin are glowing and emitting a warm quality of light that makes the cabin appear warm, fuzzy, and inviting.

Where would you like to be as it gets colder outside? I would choose the cabin because it is warm inside, or at least I believe it is. However, when you think about it, it is all an illusion. How do you know that it really is warm inside? Because the light tells us it is warm inside. That warm amber colored light seen through the windows.

If you are an outdoor adventure photographer the flash unit is a valuable ally. You can use it to create light that is warm or cold or harsh or soft. You can use multiple flash units to light a subject that emphasizes shape and texture.  You can light a moving subject to emphasize motion.

With one flash or several, you have total control over the story you want told.

joshua tree rocks camp How to Tell Stories With Light

If you look at this camp scene you can see a tent in the desert that emits a warm glow. That warm color comes from the yellow tent fabric which adds to that feeling of a warm inviting place. This is where I want to spend the night!

 bike riders night How to Tell Stories With Light

In another example, you have two bicyclists riding at night and a car coming. The riders are wearing reflective clothing designed specifically for its reflective properties so that cars see the riders at night long before approaching them. So you can see the story: riders and a car and reflective clothing. But this photo is an illusion. To capture this image and tell the story as it is told here, a flash had to be used to light the riders. The position of the riders in relation to the car resulted in the headlights not showing the reflective properties of the clothing. So we told the story by creating light with a flash unit.

raft rogue suz 1 How to Tell Stories With Light

In another example taken during a rafting trip, the sun had set and exposures became very long in the low light level. With my lens at f/4 the shutter speed was 1/8th of a second, the result was a lot of blur. By adding flash from the camera, the rafter is clearly defined and the story now told is rafting and the blur emphasizes action.

 camp joshua tree 1 How to Tell Stories With Light

In this photo, the cover of my new eBook, can you see a story? The idea is that there is a warm campfire on this cool night. The fire is placing a warm glow on the rocks in front of the outdoor person. But…it’s an illusion again. Instead there is a flash on a light stand with a warming gel and it makes us believe there is light over there coming from a fire.

As you can see there are many ways to tell stories in your photography and creating light where there isn’t2 any is a great way to do it. Warm up the tent, create fake sunlight on a flower, or freeze a moving subject with flash. One flash and your imagination is all it takes.

If you have any thoughts please leave a comment.

Related posts: Understanding the Basics of Outdoor Flash Photography, How To Use Flash Fill Outdoors


The eBook:

out flash cover 1024x748 How to Tell Stories With Light







Charlie Borland teaches The Mystery of Flash Revealed here at PPSOP. If you would like to order his new eBook: Outdoor Flash Photography, click here. (http://borlandphoto.com/ebooks/outdoor-flash-photography-ebook )





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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. […] How to Tell Stories With Light […]

  2. Nice article Charlie. I love the effect of freezing motion with flash at slow shutter speeds. Your example is outstanding!

  3. admin says:

    Thank you Kathryn!

  4. […] posts: How to Tell Stories With Light, Wildflower Photography: Flash Fill vs. […]

  5. […] posts: How to Tell Stories With Light,  How To Emphasize Action When Shooting Outdoor […]

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