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Playing With Light

by Brooke Tasovac (follow)
Blog (395)      Tutorials (61)     

A camera's most important function is finding different ways of letting in more or less light. Without light, we can't take photos.

In most shooting situations we choose our camera settings to let in the right amount of light to shoot subjects so that they are in focus and capture important moments.

However, light can take on many different appearances and it can be manipulated to create interesting effects. It's important to play and experiment with light outside of when you are shooting for a specific purpose, to see what your camera can do. Below are 4 techniques you should try to learn to extend your creativity and photography skills.

Lens Flares

Lens flares may show up in your shot when very intense light is aimed towards your camera. This light, though perhaps not directly in your line of sight, will reflect off the internal elements in your lens, causing flare. No doubt you’d have seen this when shooting with backlight, straight into the sun or into bright night lights such as the lights in a nightclub, like in the photo below.

The subject of how to capture flares has been covered before in this article but the best rule to follow is for less defined glare such as haze and streaks, ghosting flare or light leaks that enter into just part of the frame, like in the photo below, use a low aperture number that will let lots of light in. To achieve much sharper, crisper flares (the kind that look like twinkly stars known as starbursts) use a higher aperture number.

Veiling and red dot flare are two types of flare that generally don't look good in a photograph compared to other types. Veiling flare is too powerful and red dot flare is when colour appears in the flare which can be distracting and ugly. Try to use a clean, good quality UV filter or lens protector to ensure the best colours and sharpness of flares in your photos.


We’ve talked about bokeh a few times on the blog before, so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but if you’re not familiar with the concept, have a quick read of this post before you continue.

Shoot to capture bokeh by following the necessary rules that are needed to create optimal bokeh results (a very tiny aperture number and keeping your foreground subject as close to the camera as possible).

Try to shoot bokeh both in the background and foreground of an image, and at different times of the day, such as during the golden hours and at night. See what you can do with bokeh indoors and outdoors with both natural and artificial light. The results will vary in all of these different situations.


Not to be confused with ghosting flare, ghosting is an effect that happens when a moving subject moves through a scene that is by all other means, stationary. A long exposure and a tripod is required to do this. I’m sure you’ve seen images, where moving traffic at night has been captured in motion as long trails of light.

It looks similar to motion blur but it is actually different. Motion blur occurs when the shutter speed is slow and the movement is too fast to be captured sharply. Ghosting occurs when someone's movements are tracked across the frame in one long exposure.

The dark night is a perfect scenario to have your shutter open for a long time, but did you know that you can get similar effects during the day as well? You just need to make sure that your aperture number is very high to let in the least amount of light. You also need to keep your ISO as low as possible, and when lowering your shutter speed, remember that it doesn’t necessarily have to be open for a very long time. You can achieve striking ghosting effects with only a 1-2 second long exposure (or even less), like in the image below.

Shadows And Silhouettes

Shadows are often seen as an obscuring element in a photograph, but they are also essential for creating form, contrast and shape in an image. Silhouettes or partial silhouettes of subjects can also enhance the shapes of different objects, such as leaves or buildings that are all within the same photograph.

Below are some examples of photographs where shadows have been used in an artistic way.

The position of the sun plays a huge part in how a shadow will fall in a photograph, but if you want to want to capture a silhouette you'll need to use backlight. Otherwise try moving around as you shoot, and see how incorporating the light of the sun in the frame among the shadows compares to leaving it out.

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