Capturing Light by Michael Freeman

Capturing Light book cover by Michael FreemanI finished reading Capturing Light by Michael Freeman on Christmas day and what an inspiring and enlightening book it was! Freeman opened my eyes to the different kinds of light out there. I had no idea there were so many variations!

Capturing Light is divided into three sections: Waiting; Chasing and Helping. It is all about “found” light, the kind of light photographers have no control over. The first section (Waiting) deals with predictable light, light in which we can plan our photo shoot. The second section (Chasing) concerns unpredictable light such as that light shaft breaking through the storm clouds unexpectedly. This type of light one cannot plan for. One has to react to it quickly when it occurs because its appearance is of a fleeting nature. The final section (Helping) deals mainly with items that help one achieve one’s vision, namely light modifiers, filters, HDR and focus stacking. Freeman is not a fan of flash, but acknowledges that it is needed occasionally.

In Waiting Freeman covers Soft Sunlight, Gray Light, Soft Gray Light, Dark Gray Light and Wet Gray Light which were real eye openers to me as this covers the type of light that I find in Vancouver for a good part of the year. With these types of light he explains methods to create low contrast, mood, colour saturation, melancholy atmosphere, drama, reflections and distance layers. He then moves onto Hard LIght which is light from a high sun. Most photographers tend to avoid shooting in the middle of the day when this type of light occurs, but Freeman blows that philosophy out of the water. This is the time of day when abstract images with high contrast and texture and minimalistic photos can be made. He even covers the type of hard light which can be found at very high altitudes. Raking light comes next – great for textures of buildings and shadows, especially long shadows close to sunset. Another type of Hard Light is covered in greater detail, namely the Tropical Harsh light where hard edges dominate the shadows during midday and ways of dealing with this type of light such as shooting in deep dappled shade to create chiaroscuro. Snow Light comes next. Freeman then discusses shooting into the light to obtain reflections and refractions, how to block the sun and manage the contrast. Next up is shooting from Shade to Light, Reflection Light, Backlight, Axial Light, Skylight which is light reflected from the sky which reflects only the blue wavelengths and is not the same as sunlight. Then follow Top Light, Window Light (think Renaissance paintings), the Golden Hour and how to determine the time of Golden Hour, Magic Hour, Blue Evenings, City Lights, Candle Light and Glowing Light.

Freeman begins the second section, Chasing, by discussing the Golden Hour again, but here specifically paying attention to those fast changing moments that occur during sunrise or sunset. He then moves onto Edge Light and Chiaroscuro where extreme contrasts can be created as well as abstract images. Following on from this is Spotlight and the need for perfect timing, Spot Backlight, Light Shafts, Barred Light, Patterned Light and Cast-Shadow Light. From there he moves onto the elements of Storm Light covering brief breaks of light in the clouds overhead, breaks of light on the horizon, light from under a cloud bank, and dark-cloud backdrops and cities at night and Rain Light. I’m reminded of my childhood when reading about this type of light as it is the light that occurs when the sun shines while it is raining. I remember we used to call this a Monkey’s Wedding when this occurred. Caustics are dealt with next – the play of light reflecting or refracting through objects onto something else, creating patterns and sometimes colours. How to create Sunstars and Flared Light and the best ways of processing these images follow. White Light,  Dusty Light, Misty Light, Foggy Light round up the elements. Freeman then turns to  Reflected Light covering light that is bounced from a bright spot on the ground to light bounced off opposite walls to surrounding fill light and unexpected spotlights to canyon walls reflecting light. He then deals with the colour of ice in Suffused Light, explaining how water and ice absorb red tones in varying degrees resulting in shades of blue being reflected. Suffused Light also occurs when the sun scatters the blue end of the spectrum and this then results in warm hues, namely yellow, orange and reds being reflected. Suffused light can also occur in man made surroundings such as light coming through a stained glass window.

As mentioned before the Helping section deals with aspects and tools of achieving one’s vision, for instance using reflectors to capture Filled Light, using reflectors to reroute light in a certain path, using mirrors and diffusion panels to create Enveloping Light and to boost highlights. Scrims can be used in front of windows to soften light as well. Freeman then introduces ND filters, polarizers and other types of filters which attach to the front of the camera lens. He also discusses methods of dealing the compact fluorescent lights that are so prevalent in households today. Interestingly these CFL lights do not have a full light spectrum and emit a yellow-green light which the human eye discounts, but which is picked up by the camera’s sensor. He gives advice on how to deal with flare and then moves onto some post processing techniques such as dodging and burning, HDR, time-lapse light, and blending procedures.

There is so much good information in this book that rereads of different sections will definitely help prior to planning a shoot. Its definitely a keeper book and one that I will delve into for a long time to come.


Freeman, Michael (2013). Capturing Light: The Heart of Photography. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press.


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  1. Pingback: Assignment 4: Applying lighting techniques | Lynda Kuit Photography

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