Photographing in Bad Light by Alex Lagarejos

3/05/2017 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments


There are thousands of articles out there about how to photograph in the golden hour and obviously if you live in a location blessed with amazing climate then the gods of photography have been truly kind but for the rest of us mere mortals we have to work with the hand we’ve been dealt and that means contending with less than ideal conditions unless you are happy with only working a few months of the year for a couple of hours a day.

We all love the comfort of the studio, with its controlled lighting arrangements and contrived setups – we can achieve great results within this safety net but when we venture outside we must accept that life isn’t perfectly lit.

That lack of control can be daunting to even the most experienced photographer


We can check the forecasts, scout locations and know where the sun should be hitting and at what time before heading out to capture a landscape but we can’t control the weather and if you live in the UK like I do the moving cloud coverage can change by the minute – a tricky challenge.

Travel photographers dream of capturing that vibrant street parade on a heady summer evening but the reality is that the low light of dusk coupled with artificial lights, which may even be moving (thing string lights or handheld candles/torches) makes life very difficult for a photographer and indeed his kit.


There are however some straightforward things to try which can greatly improve your experience and the resulting photographs. The key is to let your photo emerge from what’s in front of you at the time instead of setting out to capture a particular image – let go of that control and really see through your lens. If there’s one lesson every photographer needs to remember it’s that you can’t force a photograph – there’s always a great image there, you just have to see it.


We know that sunrise and sunset offer us the drama of colour in landscapes – that is unless there is heavy cloud coverage and you are working in overcast conditions. Then you need to look at what can be seen in this light which could be missed under all that drama….tonal changes within a limited colour spectrum can actually be brought out by this kind of light. You could capture something far less mainstream and arguably far more interesting if you just change what your eyes are looking for.


Try a telephoto lens to pick up the textures of a landscape which add richness in the absence of as much colour – an added bonus is that you may well pick up on some great wildlife shots with this lens working for you.

Another option is to try long-exposure. An overcast day can often suggest an interesting atmosphere and a longer exposure will emphasise this and bring out colours we can’t see with our eyes.

Technically the biggest problem we will face is more likely to be contrast than colour itself. Our kit will struggle where there is too much discrepancy between the light (especially low light) and shadow which makes for patchy images. Aim to use a big f-stop in an attempt to get the best out of this situation – we are looking for good optical quality with sufficient depth of field. If you have one, consider a prime lens.


Likewise with street photography, we need to work quickly because life moves quickly and the moment may pass as quickly as it occurred. Yes, we can’t set up the shot but we can use our heads and look for the shot in a better place. There may be low light but that doesn’t mean no light at all - so be where the light is and you are ready to capture something as it comes to you – turning into the light. This is especially good for people, you can suggest a great deal of character through not only what is lit, but what remains in shadow.


Conversely, we can struggle with too much light, at midday for example especially in built up areas where the shadows can cause havoc with your scene – again, look for the interesting shadows instead of cursing that sun for blasting out your highlights.

Don’t shy away from those grey days because you may just nail a shot you hadn’t even imagined.


About Alex Lagarejos:

Alex Lagarejos is an award-winning photographer based in South West London. Originally from Glasgow, Alex moved to London as a teenager and pursued a career in the arts; to fund his way through drama school Alex was lucky enough to work as an assistant to some of London’s top photographers where he honed his craft. Now Alex has managed to forge his way as an acclaimed photographer; offering first class headshot sessions in both the acting and corporate world. Commercially, Alex Lagarejos Photography has also secured several large editorial, travel and lifestyle commissions. For more info visit alexlagarejos.com


Thanks Alex for sharing this article with us.


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