Photographing Dappled Light

Dappled Light, Mount Tamborine, Queensland

Leica M9 camera and Leica Summilux 24mm f1.4 lens. Exposure Details: 1/60 second @ f 5.7 ISO 100.

Photographing dappled light is fiendishly difficult due to the high scene brightness range (i.e., dynamic range) under which you’ll likely be working.

Photography’s Most Important Mantra

Rules were meant to be broken, right! Well, that’s assuming you first know the rules; understand where they apply; and when and how you might go about breaking them to achieve the desired result.

I’ve been teaching photography for many years and there are a number of mantras I continually return to when providing folks with technical feedback. The first one on my list is as follows:

The Brighter the Light the Darker the Shadows will Photograph

One of the difficulties folks experience along their journey in photography is to learn to see how the camera sees the world. Most people take most of their photos on warm, sunny days. It’s when we feel good and are more likely to be outside enjoying life. Sadly, this kind of lighting is far from ideal when it comes to making good photos, particularly where people are involved.

Behold the God that is Technology

No doubt the ability of camera sensors to record an increased range of brightness levels will, within the medium term, largely resolve this problem that has plagued photography from its inception. It would seem to me that this should now be a major area of research and development, now that megapixel count and high ISO noise performance has advanced so much.   

Is Live View the Answer?

It could certainly be argued that live view will overcome the problem of excessive contrast in images. Not through any magic algorithms applied to image processing, but by providing the photographer with a real time view of how the scene in question will photograph. And, as a way of concentrating the attention, some cameras even warn us when areas within the image are going to be recorded as either black or burned out highlights.

Such warnings should prompt the photographer to take immediate, in camera, action to reduce the scene brightness range within their composition to produce a more acceptable result. And the easiest way to do that is to change your composition. Simply move your camera around to include mostly light or most dark areas to achieve a dramatic improvement in overall exposure. It may not be the result you first envisaged, but at least it’s a better exposure.

Over time you’ll begin to understand, intuitively, what can and cannot be photographed and you’ll begin to compose your photos, from the get go, with this in mind.

The above photo was made in the rainforest on Mount Tamborine, about an hour and a half drive from the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. It was a bright and very warm day and the light coming through the canopy was intense. Experience told me that it was going to be tough to maintain detail in all but the lightest shadows.

The solution was to allow the darker shadows (as I perceived them) to record black and use them as a compositional device to draw the eye towards the main focal point/s within the frame. Put simply: compose with light and allow the shadows to shape and frame the scene.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru