Available light

It´s been far to long since my last post so I wanted to make this an interesting one, and decided you deserved a little more than a blog update and that I should give you something to get your teeth into, so I thought we´d having a look at available light.

Available light usually refers to sunlight, but can technically refer to other light source that is, uhum, available.

Lets get right into it. All light be it from the sun, studio flashes, candles, car headlights, whatever… has 3 characteristics.

  • - Intensity
  • - Direction
  • - Colour

Each of these elements are what will make up your final image, because with out light you can´t create a photo. That´s how fundamentally important the attributes are.

Portrait of Indan man using available sun light

Lets look at the image above. Firstly the colour of the light is very warm and soft also the shadows under the gentleman’s nose and lip indicate a the light coming from a very low point of view. From this we can have a pretty good guess that the image was shot either during the early hours or late in the afternoon, when the sun is at its warmest, softest and lowest. These are considered the golden hours for photographers.

As a travel photographer who uses mainly natural sunlight to light his shots its important not only for me to be aware of all 3 but to anticipate how each one will change during the day and how best to use that light to create a compelling image.

So if all 3 characteristics of sunlight change during the day why do so many photographers use natural light as opposed to flash? Surely you´d have more control over exactly how the image wil look if you use a flash set up.

The simple answer is normally because it´s easier. Not only easier but subjects are normally more relax in sunlight than under flash and the final shot has more of a feeling of realism. Many travel photographers, myself included, are using flash more and more as a way of having more control. Lets return again to the image above I could have produced the exact same shot at night and lit with various flashes and light shapers but then again would I want to.

Here´s another example.

Rickshaw shot with available light

This time we can see the light is nowhere near as warm and soft and of course those long dramatic shadows pointing downwards. It´s obvious from this the image was taken during the afternoon on a clear sunny day but also note the high contrast, look how bright the highlights are and how dark those shadows are. This is another effect of shooting during the middle of the day. Sometimes these elements can be used creatively other times they should be steered well clear of.

I hope this has made you think a little more about available light and how it can be used.

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    Some thoughts on location portraiture

    One thing I love to shoot is portraits, they can tell you so much not just about the actual people in the image but also about the surrounding community.

    Location portraiture doesn´t have to include involve big fancy flash units, and umbrellas, although I often add a spot of flash to fill the shadows in the subjects face. I normally like to light the image with natural light as much as possible as with this photo below.

    The beauty of location portraits is they can be shot literally anywhere, in someones home, on top of the Eiffel tower, under the sea, pretty much anywhere you can imagine. However when shooting outdoors its best, although not always possible to avoid shooting in harsh, direct sunlight, this could very easily cause burnt out areas in your images and even worse cause your subject to squint – never a flattering look. You´re much better off finding a lightly shaded area to shoot, but when you do keep an eye on your shutter speed and burning out the sky.

    You can add more depth to your image by adding some props, these could be something very simple such as a cigarette or something as complex as a Large Hadron either way something that adds an element to the image that helps to build a story of the life the subject leads will create a more intriguing photograph.

    If you´ve got your own tips on location portraiture add them in to the comments, we´d love to hear them.

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      Making people smile

      Anyone who´s taken photos in Asia would have probably come across the peculiar posses that many subjects seem to adopt as soon as you lift your camera. In China and Burma its the ´2 finger peace sign and cheesy grin´ pose, where as in India its the ´ridged, stare directly at the camera and look as serious as possible´ pose.

      As a photographer I have to overcome this, to get the subject to relax and feel comfortable to produce more natural looking shots. I never tell the subject how to pose but there are things I can do to get a natural looking shot without directing the subject directly. I used to think that just by spending time with someone I could get them to relax and shoot some more personal shots. Thing is, and I´ve noticed this several times, after spending several hours with a subject and there´re really relaxed and everything is good but as soon as the camera comes out  they stiffen up and a pull their blankest expression ever.  Ggrrrrr, that’s frustrating.

      So, what to do? well I´ve developed a little secret. It involves me not hiding my head behind my camera but holding the camera away and to the side of my face so I´m looking face to face with the subject, there´s a direct link created that wouldn´t be possible if my camera was in the way. From this position I keep my head facing the subject and look to my far left just by moving my eyes, I then do the same in the other direction. By this point the subject normally gets a little confussed, this is increased when I go cross eyed and blow out my cheeks or stick out my tongue. Shooting frames as I repeat this sequence a few times. If by this point the subject hasn´t even got  hint of a smile its time to move on, I´ve failed.

      I´ve put together a contact sheet that shows the results of me using this technique with an Indian man I met at the side of the road in Rishikesh. There is probably less than a second or 2 in time difference between each frame.

      Notice how the first frame shows a great example of the ´ridged, stare directly at the camera and look as serious as possible´ pose, as the frames continue I work my moves and despite some serious effort, the subject finally cracks and Im able to quickly shoot off a few frames with a more natural unposed  expression.

      Below is a shot of me using this technique on the streets of Vrindavan in India. If you´ve got a different technique I´d love to hear it, if not feel free to use mine.

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        What makes a good photo great?

        Let me first start by saying that, as with every one of my blog posts, this is my personal opinion. If you think my photos suck there really is no need to read on, however if your interested in what I believe makes a great photo, then read away.

        There are 3 basic guidelines that make a good image great.

        A great photo should:

        1. Have a theme or message that it communicates.

        For me an image that has no message is pretty dull. An extreme example would be images of products with plain white backgrounds, the kind of thing you´d see in a catalogue or on ebay. This however goes much further than catalogues, many travel portraits I see suffer from the photographer zooming right in to just show the persons face and selecting a large enough aperture to completely blur out any visible background. The theme of the image could be much stronger if the photographer had included other elements that surround or are important to the subject.

        2. Focus attention on the subject.

        I’m not just talking about making sure the technical side of things are correct and the autofocus on your lens has done a good job. I’m talking more about the composition here, about creating emphasis on the subject, using techniques such as the converging lines, the correct use of aperture, selective lighting, framing and the placement of the subject. Used correctly these elements can and will improve your images.

        3. Include only what is necessary and eliminate or minimise what is distracting.

        This ones not a simple as it first sounds, it´s closely linked to the first point. What is necessary in an image is totally up to you the photographer, add as much as you want but make sure it adds to the image and doesn´t distract. This can even include colour, if you think that some of the colours in you image distract from the main subject then make the image black and white or selectively reduce the saturation during your post processing.

        Its not to say that great images can´t be made without all 3 of these guidelines, they are after all just my personal guidelines – so make what you will of them.

        Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments

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          Black & white conversion in Lightroom 2.

          In my recent posts I’ve included a fair few black & white images, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you my post processing work-flow and how I converted just one of my raw files into lovely Black & white image.

          This image was shot at the kumbh mela just this morning and I decided I wanted to process it into a  black & white image. So in the develop module of Lightroom the first thing I did was to scroll down to the HSL/Color/Grayscale panel and click greyscale which has turned my image into a rather flat looking black & white image.

          Tom Bourdon Black and white conversion 1
          From this starting point I went to the tone curve panel to give the image some more contrast by darkening all regions of the curve except the highlights which I slightly increased. This can either be done with the sliders or the fantastic tool Adobe provides that, once selected, allows you click directly onto the photo and increase or decrease the tone with the vertical movements of your mouse. Either way can produce the same results. I’ve no idea what this tool is called but I’ve circled it on the image below.
          Adjusting the contrast like this gives you a great deal more control over the the tones compared to using the contrast slider in the basics panel.

          Tom Bourdon Black and white conversion 2

          I  can make further, more specific, adjustments to the greyscale mix in the HSL/Color/Grayscale panel in the same way.

          Tom Bourdon Black and white conversion 3 copy

          Many black and white images appear stronger if you add a fair amount of clarity, this slider can be found in the basic panel.

          Tom Bourdon Black and white conversion 4

          A final touch I often like to add to my black & white images is to a nice big vignette.

          Tom Bourdon Black and white conversion 5 copy



          A final image ready to go up on my blog. Its also important to keep an eye on your histogram during the process to make sure you don’t burn out the hightlights. Obviously every black & white image will need different treatment, so basically play around see what works for your image.

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            Shooting Black & White

            Over the last couple of months I’ve been shooting more & more black & white photos and I’ve learnt something, something that I wanted to share. I use the expression ‘shooting black & white photos’ not because I actually set my camera up to take a black & white image but because I’ve now got into the habit to compose the image with the knowledge that the resulting image is going to be converted to Black & White. Instead of just shooting an image and trying a black & white version during my post processing, its now a creative decision I make before I shoot the image not after.

            An example.

            In this example the sky, as quite often here in India, was a bright and (dare I say) ugly white. Without changing the perspective or resorting to some rather strange & shocking filters there’s very little I could have done to over come this. Also the paint work, again as often here in India, was looking a bit old, dull and tatty. Often in these situations I wouldn’t even think about taking the shot, but by consciously making the decision that the final image will end up being black & white I can stop worrying about these elements and even use them to make the image stronger. Here for example the peeling paint gives the black & white version more texture & shape.


             I think you’ll agree that the black & white conversion is the stronger of the 2, if nothing else the creative process allowed me to take an shot I otherwise wouldn’t.

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              Finding the angles

              I’m still in Varanasi and couldn’t be happier to be here. But no trip to Varanasi would be complete without a sun rise boat trip on the Ganges. I’ve done 3 already, and may squeeze in one more before I leave. It’s a great way to witness the the old city and the light is simply superb (have I mentioned that before..?).

              Inspired by a shot I took back in Calcutta of a rickshaw puller (link here) I thought I’d try a similar shot here on the boat. I know another black and white one I’m sorry I’ll get back to the big bright colours soon, I promise.


              One thing with India is so many tourists come here and take a huge array of photos that it can sometimes be difficult to find an interesting or unique angle on a subject. This doesn’t mean you should give up and copy the masses, far from it. It means you need to work harder, explore further, get down on your knees and shoot from very low, or shoot ultra wide when normally people shoot with a telephoto. Great images come from breaking the norm, normal images come from following it.

              So next time you shoot an image think about the angle your shooting from and try a different more unusual one – you might be surprised by the results.

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                7 tips on ‘How to pan’

                Well I’ve made it to Bangladesh and what can I say apart from its crazy here, so intense, everywhere I go I’m literally surrounded by locals staring at me. Everyone is friendly, too friendly perhaps. Most of them don’t speak English but those that do are very proud to show it. ‘What’s your name?’…. ‘where you go?’. Its nice to come back to the hotel to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle. I was actually woken up on the train today by a young man asking ‘ what’s your country?’  couldn’t believe it I’m not even safe when I’m asleep.

                So the internet here is really slow so I can’t upload any images today, I’ll try again soon. However I do have 7 tips on panning for you.

                I’ve been, as you may have noticed, been using this technique quite a lot recently and I thought you’d like to know some tips.

                Lets start at the beginning

                What is panning?

                Here’s the technical sounding part. Basically the idea is to shoot using a slow shutter speed (perhaps 1/20th, depends on the subject – but its not a bad starting point) to follow a moving object and create a sense of movement. It could be a car, a bike,  even elephants running – anything really that moves. You’ll want a different shutter speed based on the speed of your subject, slower subject slower shutter speed. Then as the subject moves across your field of view (left to right or right to left) you follow the subject as if you were shooting a video and wanted to keep the subject in the same place of the frame throughout and click. The idea is to keep the subject in focus whilst having a streaking blurred background. Something like this.


                Got it? Now the guy on the scooter, and everything that’s traveling at the same speed as it, is pretty sharp with the background blurred this is because as far as the camera sensor is aware the scooter was always in the same position where as the background was moving left to right.

                Now for the tips

                • Prefocus on where the subject is going to pass
                • Use you cameras Tv function start at 1/20 sec and adjust depending on the results, let your camera work out the correct aperture, large aperture is best as it adds even more blur to background.
                • Struggling to get the subject sharp then use a faster speed.
                • Struggling to get enough blur in the background use a slower speed.
                • Follow the subject after you’ve shot the image, yes after, you’ll be surprised how much this can help.
                • Try to shoot when the subject is directly in front of you.
                • Practice and shoot lots of frames.

                That’s all Ive got for today, I’ll try to get back online soon.

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                  Decisive moment & November wallpaper

                  Next months wallpaper comes with a free lesson about Henri Cartier-Bresson’s the decisive moment. If you’ve not heard of Henri Cartier-Bresson, shame on you and get Goggling.

                  So here’s the steps I took to create Novembers wallpaper. First of all I found my background, a plain weathered wall with boxes stacked up at one end – nothing too exciting but it caught my attention, on what was a rather slow day in Phuket before the festival began.

                  So I’ve got my background all I have to do now is compose and wait. I composed the image leaving a large space to the left of the frame.


                  I was waiting for something along the lines of a child running from left to right (movement usually looks better if its into the frame instead of out of it, you’ll see what I mean in a bit) to fill the space.

                  THA_191009_114 copy

                  During my wait, which was only about 30 minutes or so, lots of things appeared in my empty space but with each one there was a major fault in what I was trying to achieve.

                  In this first image the guy on the motor bike was simply going the wrong way.


                  As was this Thai market trolley complete with a nice brightly coloured umbrella – shame.


                  This woman with the red umbrella just seemed too small to fill the big gap and made me think that a child running would also be too small. I knew if I waited long enough I’d get something nice to fill the space.


                  Although it wasn’t exactly what I was originally looking for I knew when I took this shot that this was the one. Big enough to fill the space and balance the image. I was happy with the shot – It could just have been I was getting cramp in my leg from being crouched down for so long. Either way I was happy to walk away.


                  Instructions for use:

                  Click the link below that matches your screen resolution then right click the image and click ‘Set as desktop background’ or ‘Use Image as Desktop Picture” on the Mac.

                  800×600 | 1024×768 | 1280×853 | 1440×900 | 2560×1600

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                    Composition Series – Frame within a frame

                    This technique is probably one of the best ways to improve photography, so forget that new lens, or a new body with 11fps, and think more about what’s going on in the frame.

                    Having a frame within a frame (if your not sure what I’m talking about check out the examples below, you’ll soon catch up) not only focuses attention on a particular area of an image but also adds physical depth to the shot. It forces the view to look from though one layer into another. This is important because lets not forget what the process of photography is actually doing, its taking a 3 dimensional subject and recording it in a 2 dimensional format.



                    In the example above the internal frame is created by the blue and yellow ribbons and draws more attention to the young monks face than, which is the main point of interest in this shot (for me at least).

                    Now the internal frame can be anything, any shape, recognisable or not. Below are a few more examples.





                    Now if your clever, and I know at least some of you are, the frame doesn’t have to join up. For example a frame can be made up by 3 lines of a square and the 4th line is implied.



                    See what I mean?

                    So that’s the basics of frames within frames, of course like anything this technique can be over used and become some kind of cliché, but that’s just evidence that it works.

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