In search of good light

I have just spent a whole week in New York with some of my photography friends. I have never been there before. In fact I have only been to the US once , in a wedding in Minnesota close to fifteen years ago.

Travelling west from Europe brings one advantage – you wake up early. The mornings in New York were spent alone on the streets with the camera. I was surprised by the instant feeling of being at home. That I had been there before. Which probably is caused by the innumerous American movies watched over the years :-)

I thought it would be very dark in the city because of the high skyscrapers, but it felt the opposite. Perhaps because there was so much glass reflecting light back down on the wide avenues.

I found one location that I would like to share with you – and explain how I used the natural light.

New York

New York

New York

New York

Even if there is light on the faces of these people, I am photographing against the sun. This is easy to see in the second image, when you look at how the shadows fall on the ground. The shadows fall towards the camera.

In the third image you can see that the shadow is falling in the complete opposite direction, away from the camera, but it is weaker than the shadows in the previous image.

The fourth and final image gives the secreat away. There are shadows going in both directions, however one is significantly weaker than the other.

The trick is to find a location where the sun hits a tall glass window behind you, and reflects light back on your subjects. For the final image I am sitting on the ground in front of the window. The weaker shadow is the one from the reflected light. The stronger shadow is the one caused by the sun.

The reflection works as if you used a weaker flash as a fill light.

If you like street photography but think it is a bit scary, sitting still in a good location is a good technique for you. People are more likely to say sorry for being in your way, than being annoyed. Sometimes they even stop and wait for you to finish your image before they pass. But they will never shout at you for taking a photo without asking. It is them who are stepping into your personal zone, not the other way around.

If you want to try this specific location one morning in New York, it is on the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 53rd street. Don’t forget to bring a lens hood!


4 Responses to “In search of good light”

  1. If you sit on the street for long enough in NYC, somebody will eventually give you their change. And they say that photography doesn’t pay!!! :-)

    Eli, this is really great advice for people. I’ve used the oddest of things over the years as a reflector for fill light, including somebody wearing a white tshirt. When the light is out there, we don’t always just have to accept it as directly from the sun. We can reflect and modify it. Better still if something — like a building — does it for us.

  2. nate parker says:

    WTF !!

    (inspired by the same comment that you left on Duchemins blog.)

    I know, weird right?

  3. Ian Mylam says:

    Great post Eli – and a great tip with the glass reflection.

    I also often sit and ‘fish’ for images, mining a great location, rather than ‘hunting’ them down in large cities, for exactly the reasons you articulated. I like to view the location I have found as my ‘stage’, and sit and wait for my ‘actors’ to appear from stage left or stage right.

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