Exposed! :: Seize the opportunistic light ::

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Recently I was away on a photo hunt - expanding my base of stock and photo based art while experimenting and trying new techniques. My tools were mostly simple - cameras, lenses and the sun as my main light source.

I started shooting at what I call "Far Too Early!" to capture golden light and stillness. As I was crawling around investigating a garden I stumbled upon a momentarily backlit situation behind a beautiful thistle, below. Working quickly I captured a decent shot that was only available ten minutes a day for perhaps two weeks a year.

While we sometimes use manufactured lighting - strobes, reflectors - there is always an opportunity to discover simple and magical "opportunistic lighting."

In this edition of Exposed! we explore where to find the special light and how to discover the magic.

Backlit Thistle
Opportunistic Light

What is it?

Opportunistic lighting usually occurs early or late in the day when the sun is low and light is changing rapidly. It can occur in the midday hours in some secret locations. The key to finding the light is to slow down and use your eyes to take in your surroundings.

Where do you find it?

Opportunistic light can be found almost anywhere in different situations and locations. Often the light appears where there are very different light levels in your scene.

How do you find it?

This is the tough part! It takes a keen sense of observation - time spent exploring before your camera comes out. This process requires some quiet time wandering with all your senses. It may cost you dirty knees or time as you crawl or sit quietly in the middle of a forest. Taking this time to investigate, slowly, can often be the difference between an obvious picture and a spectacular photo moment.

How do you capture it?

Once you find the magic it's important to evaluate the scenario - often the light will change quickly - you may need to act fast:

Pro Perspective

Magic opportunities don't only exist in early morning light in picturesque gardens:

1. I was shooting an executive portrait when I noticed the opportunity to frame the businessmen's heads in the reflection from the bright floors behind - it took some wiggle work to frame but produced one of my favourite candid portraits.

Notice the well exposed people and blown out background. This was shot with simple equipment and techniques like what can be learned in Natural Light Portraits.

Executive portraits
Executive portraits

2. Years ago I was covering a band at a club. The band left the stage, house lights came on and my job was done - or so I thought!

I looked back to the stage and my heart leapt. A spotlight had appeared on the drums. I had no idea where the light came from or how long it would last. I DID know I had to act fast if I was to capture the opportunity!

I set up quickly and got the shot. Phew! Notice the well exposed drums and underexposed background.

Band Photos

3. Shooting for a recent event, hockey superstar Daniel Alfredsson showed up to speak.

The speeches had moved under a very dark, cramped, dreary tent due to rain. Traditionally this would be shot with flash and would have created a well exposed - but messy - background.

I saw the opportunistic light and exposed for Alfredson using only available light, blowing out the background except for my client's key symbol - the butterfly. This was simply shot and was very effective for the client.

Daniel Alfredson
Daniel Alfredson


As is often the case I want you to slow down and explore your space with all your senses. Look for the magic - it's there for those who seek it!

Final Frame

Paul Simon sang "Slow down, you move too fast." Take the time to find the magic of opportunistic lighting.

Take photos. Have fun.