Thursday, December 31, 2015

Embrace Light. Love Light. Know Light.

Lines & Shadows - Tehachapi, California
Photography is capturing light. Without light there is no photograph.

George Eastman said, "Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you're worth, and you will know the key to photography."

Most of the light that one captures is reflected light--you are not photographing an object or scene, but the reflected luminosity from that object or scene. Different surfaces reflect light differently, giving various amounts of illumination, or, in black-and-white photography, different shades of grey. A blown out highlight is too much light and a deep black shadow is the absence of light.
Fancy Eaves - Rancho Cucamonga, California
A photograph is two-dimensional. What differentiates one thing from another is light, or lack of light, or (more usually) both.  It's highlights, shadows, and those in-between tones that make the different shapes and forms within a photograph. In black-and-white photography, if the tones are all the same you won't see a picture, you'll see a grey rectangle.

What appears as different shapes and forms within a photograph is nothing more than different levels of luminance. One can "see" the light--look at the light in a given scene and in one's mind know how that will look in a photograph--and, using this knowledge, understand what will make a good photograph and what won't.

It's possible to photograph something that is quite boring and create a photograph that is very interesting. It requires interesting light. If the light is interesting, the photograph has the potential to be interesting no matter what the subject might be. And if the light is boring, the photograph has a pretty good chance of being a snoozer no matter how interesting the scene might be.
Shoots & Ladder - Pasadena, California
In photography it is more important to find good light than to find good subjects. A fence that no one thinks twice about could make a great photograph if the light is great. The eaves on an ordinary restaurant building could make an interesting image if the light is good.

The opposite is also true. A photograph of Yosemite National Park under ordinary light will produce an ordinary photograph. Boring light makes boring photographs.

The key to great photography isn't about owning the right gear. It's not about visiting the right places. It's about seeing the right light. It's about finding great light. It's about knowing light.
Black & White Stripes - Corona Del Mar, California
Your photographs will only be as good as the light that exists when the images are captured. Forget looking for great subjects, look for the great light instead! Embrace light. Love light. Know light. And, whatever the subject is, you have the potential to create great images.

Once you understand light, you can go about creating your own light if you'd like. No one says that it has to be natural. You can artificially illuminate a scene. You can add your own illumination to the existing light, or you can use artificial light exclusively. You can make your own great light when it doesn't exist naturally. You have the ability to control it.

Photography isn't so much about seeing what nobody else sees. Instead, it's thinking differently about the things that everyone sees. It's understanding light at an intimate level when others don't. It's showing people what was right in front of them, but they couldn't see because they couldn't read the light. 
Window Shadows - Las Vegas, Nevada
Photography is about seeing and thinking. It's not about thoughtless snapshots. It's not about having a certain brand of camera. It's not about placing a watermark on your images. Anyone can do those things, but not everyone can see and think photographically.

Seeing and thinking. That's photographic vision. It's using your creative mind to capture something that only you could create. It's making your own unique interpretation of the scene.

To summarize all of this into a simple and practical application, the next time you are out with your camera, make an extra effort to find interesting light. Forget whether the scene is interesting or not, focus on capturing great light no matter the subject. An ordinary subject can make an extraordinary photograph if the light is right. It's your job to find it.

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