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For you to be able to photograph a subject, light needs to interact with it in some way, either by reflecting it or emitting it.

Read more: How to always get your exposure right. You could, for example, be dealing with the soft, warm glow of a sunrise or sunset when photographing very early in the morning or much later in day , or the harsh light that you get when trying to take pictures at midday. You could also be taking pictures in overcast conditions, which gives you a much different and considerably flatter kind of light to work with. Alternatively, instead of natural light mentioned above, you could be dealing with a scene lit with artificial lighting sources.

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So, the fluorescent strip lighting you get inside shops and bars, or the light from an everyday household lightbulb at home, or even the illumination from the flashgun on your camera. Alternatively, it could be spread over a wider area and softened in some way, such as when it spills out from a lampshade or through a pair of curtains.

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This is just the tip of it all, but you should get the idea: light changes, and understanding what this means for your images will help you to take the best approach. When using natural light, it may simply be a case of waiting for the sun to disappear behind a cloud, or waiting for it to be lower in the sky, that makes all the difference. When you first start shooting, however, you should expect a little trial and error to fully understand what works and what doesn't.

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The kind of light that best suits your subject all depends on what it is you want to photograph and what you want the end result to be. Usually with portraits, the most flattering type of light is typically a soft light, such as that which comes from a low sun. This tends to give a pleasing and natural result. Take the same image when the sun is directly above the subject in the middle of the day and what do you get?

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Harsh shadows and lots of contrast, with more obvious definitions between light and dark areas. Light that has been diffused by clouds has helped to produce a good balance between the different tones in this scene. Because of this, there aren't any dense shadows or very bright highlights, although the subject itself will also partly determine this. If using an artificial light source in a photographic studio, the photographer will typically use a large translucent cover that diffuses the light, or an umbrella which reflects the light from its larger internal surface area.

Read more: Cheat sheet: Wide vs narrow aperture.

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Instead, they may attempt to soften it in some way, either by angling it towards a wall or ceiling from which it can bounce off to the subject or by placing a panel of some kind over it, which again softens its output and makes it more flattering. Most flashguns have heads that tilt upwards left to help you angle the light for a more flattering result. Many also come with diffuser caps right which help you to soften the output.

The position of the light also makes a big difference with portraits. These shadows would not necessarily form if the subject is facing the light, which is possible to achieve when the sun is lower in the sky. Strong midday light, which may not be desirable for portraiture, can be useful elsewhere. Here, it has helped to increase contrast and reveal texture.

New understanding of light allows researchers to see around corners

Through his observations, he found not only that white is the sum of all colours, but also that a ray of white light can be broken down into its constituent components. Many natural phenomena, from the rainbow to the fact that a cloudless sky appears blue, can be explained by the fact that light is refracted when it crosses the boundary between two different substances. Once again, the intensity and spectral composition of light play a crucial role in this emerging research. As Deborah Burnett explains in her article in this magazine, only the full-spectrum light of the sun provides our bodies with the information that initiates and controls all life functions necessary for our survival.

When photographer Ola Bergengren set out to perform the experiments shown on the photographs overleaf, it was impossible to produce a full spectrum of colours with artificial light.

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