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Photographer Corina Straub offers insight on how the natural light she encounters around the world informs and challenges her photography.
As a photographer, chasing good light is what I do. This is a personal story about how I’ve adapted my photography as I’ve moved across the world, from Mexico to Germany and in between, watching the light change as my work changed. My name is Corina Straub, and I’m a portrait photographer from Mexico now based in Germany.
From Mexico to Canada: Discovering How Light Changes
My love for photography began early in my life when I was introduced to my first camera, an old Canon EOS 1000FN 35mm, by my father. At that time, I lived in Mexico.
As you can imagine most days we were blessed with beautiful weather, blue skies, and sun every single day. I can’t remember ever looking at the weather to try to think of what the next day or the next hour would look like. I never had to think of a plan B if the weather didn’t work out, I was never forced to move a shoot indoors. Beautiful natural light was a given, and it wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I realized how lucky it is to be a photographer in a country where light is constant.
Being a Portrait Photographer in Germany
Flash forward many years, and I’m now a freelance portrait photographer based in Germany, a country that is still very new to me. I also contribute to Shutterstock Custom.
Throughout my photography career, I’ve been lucky enough to travel and move around enough times to learn that light greatly varies depending on where you are in the world. The harshness, the movement, the length of time available, the time of day, even the seasons of the year play a huge role in what light will look like, what it will do, and create for you as a photographer.
For the love of natural light
I went to school to be a photographer, and during my program, I learned the many technical skills needed regarding light. That included when to bring a flash in when faced with dark rooms and situations, as well as learning about studio lighting.
I quickly learned that that wasn’t the side of photography that I was most interested in, and if I’m being honest I’ve never been much of an expert in those areas. I avoid using artificial lighting wherever possible. This realization in my love of photography has forced me to learn all I can about natural light, and relying on the sun as my main light source.
How living in different countries changes your photography
Before I continue on the importance of light in photography, here’s a little bit of background on how moving countries has changed the way I pursue photography.
I was incredibly surprised by how living in different environments could completely change my work. Living in Canada and later in the United Kingdom taught me so much about my surroundings, and the changing environments I was shooting in. It almost forced me to be flexible when these change. Getting pushed outside of your comfort zone is important as creatives, and moving definitely did that for me.
These are a few things that I consider the most important when it comes to understanding light and your photography.
Four Things to Consider with Photographic Lighting
1. The importance of scouting
When I moved to the UK, location scouting became not just something I should get done, but something I relied on and would never skip before a shoot. London is a busier and faster city than Vancouver, so it restricted me in ways I never considered. I had to look for outdoor locations that allowed for quiet photoshoots.
If you’ve ever been to London you know how difficult finding quiet can be. Shooting in old parking lots, rooftops, hidden alleys, and long train journeys became my normal to find quiet.
This was a huge contrast to what it was like to be a photographer in Vancouver, a city that’s brimming with beautiful backdrops including mountains, ocean, forests, and everything you can imagine. Looking back on living in Vancouver now, arranging photoshoots there seemed way easier.
2. Creating soft light
While location and scenery are important to create beautiful images, the light will always be crucial and the main factor of importance in photography. Good light has the power to generate effects, shadow, or silhouettes.
When I moved to the UK, I started paying so much more attention to the weather and learned that cloudy weather generated soft light, and I could use gray skies to my advantage instead of seeing them as an enemy. What I love about gray days is that they give me the opportunity to use the clouds as a reflector and diffuser, achieving more even and softer light on my portraits.
For more portrait photography tips, check these out:
3. Finding beauty in hard light
That being said, I still love blue skies and sunny days that produce hard light, helping me get different results on my portraits. Hard light allows me to play around with shadows, textures, and even intensity and color.
One thing that I’ve learned about the quality of light is how fast it can change in a place like London, where the weather is so unpredictable. It creates a new kind of challenge, and I’ve had to learn to be a faster and more efficient photographer.
For more tips on shooting in harsh light, check out this article.
4. How air pollution effects light
Something I’ve never considered, or even paid attention to, was air pollution and how it can change the way light reflects and diffuses sunlight. I never thought that air pollution would be something I needed to learn in photography.
While I’m not much of an expert in this area, I have learned to pay more attention to the quality of the air and how it may affect my settings. All photographers should consider air pollution when photographing outdoors in any big and busy city.
There are plenty of factors that play into the photography style I’ve developed. Now that I’m in a brand new country, I’m very excited to learn how the light moves and falls here in Germany and what it will do to my photography. I hope this helps photographers around the world get out there and shoot at different times of the day, different light, and new locations that seem completely outside what’s normal to you as creatives.
All images by Shutterstock Custom contributor, photographer, and writer Corina Esquivel.
Looking for more lighting inspiration? Check out these articles:
Tips for Replicating Evening Light Indoors on a BudgetNatural Light Photography: How to Take Photos at Any Time of DayUsing Tungsten Lighting in a Daylight-balanced SceneBlue Hour Photography: How to Expose Correctly and Find the Right Light10 Expert Tips for Taking Photographs in Mixed Light
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