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It's the Lighting That Makes the Photograph

Sometimes the actual subject of a photograph doesn't really matter that much. Sometimes it can serve merely as something for the light to fall on.

The word "photography" derives from the Greek for "drawing or painting with light." Light enters your camera lens, passes through the various elements where it gets focused on the recording media. If enough of it falls on it over the time the shutter is open, an image results. You've created an exposure. The photograph has been painted with light on the sensor. No light, no photograph.

Much like a camera, we can't see well at all without sufficient light. The pupils in our eyes can dilate and contract to deal with changing brightness much as the aperture in a camera lens can. Light matters both to us and our cameras.

The quality of light can change dramatically throughout the day. There's a reason why many of us are willing to get up in time for sunrise and eat dinner at odd hours to also shoot at sunset. Light can also change in response to conditions. Storm lighting can be moody and dark. But when the clouds break, the light can quickly turn dramatic and almost glowing.

In moments like this you have to act fast. Just as quickly the light can change again and the magic can be lost. Even during midday the light can filter through the trees in unexpected ways to create an effect that disappears if you merely walk a few more yards down the trail. When the light strikes, you need to shoot or you risk missing it.

An interesting subject in unflattering lighting will probably result in an unflattering image. An average subject in interesting lighting will still record that interesting light. If you look for a compelling subject and hope for good light your images will be average at best. If you try to find compelling light and hope for a good subject your images may end up outstanding.

I do my best to be where I want to be for sunrise and sunset since the chances of great light is high then. But sometimes amazing light can't be predicted. When it happens, I've been known to drop everything and hunt for most any excuse for a subject. Yes, I want the best subject I can find, but it almost doesn't matter so long as it's in the right light.

Sometimes it's the combination of light — the warmth of first light contrasted with the cool bluish light of the shadows. Or perhaps simply the mottled pattern of light creating shapes that seem almost to have a solidity of their own. Or maybe it's that the shaft of light piercing through the veil of trees is just that — a shaft of light piercing through the veil of trees.

It can be easy to take a picture of a waterfall or a mountain. It can be much more challenging, and dare I say, potentially much more satisfying, to strive for shooting the fleeting glow of morning light. Or the peculiar circumstances that is an interesting lighting condition at whatever time you may come across it.

Rather than looking for looking for something to take a picture of, maybe it's time to start looking for some light to take a picture of. It's the lighting that makes the photograph.

Date posted: February 17, 2013


Copyright © 2013 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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