A Rant on Light and Why You Should Love It

There would be perhaps no sweeter words to the ear of the photographer had he been around to hear God command, “Let there be light”. I spent the past hour browsing pictures on 500px and found myself constantly being amazed by the quality of light captured by photographers from around the world. Light, I’m happy to report, has by no means lost its cult-like popularity. Though for the greater part we take it for granted, it’s refreshing to know it’s still there for us. This is a rant dedicated to those who have learned to see and love great light. To the artists, photographers, star-gazers, nature lovers and general observers; a tribute to all those who have come to appreciate light for what it does.

Learning the trade requires a photographer to learn all about light. We read about hard light, soft light, flat light, low light, warm light and no light. We study the physics surrounding the transmission of light through mediums; we are taught to master the capture of light and even produce our own to market our subjects. We are constantly prodded to bounce light, fill light, spot light, diffuse light and eat light (for those of us watching our weight). We treat it like a commodity; something to be purchased, traded, controlled, captured and manipulated; often forgetting to appreciate it as the greatest enabler to this amazing art-form.
Let’s take two minutes and thirty-seven seconds to consider what light means to a photographer.
  1. Light illuminates and is therefore the source of all our images. We’d love to entrust total faith to our cameras which now sport ISO settings all the way up to 25,000. But, even in the darkest night, no image can be produced if a source of light, be it however distant or faint, is not present.
  2. Darkness hides but light reveals. We are correct in thinking that only partially lighting a subject adds to the visual appeal of the image. But zero lighting subdues any subject at all and negates its existence.
  3. Light reveals texture. Photographic subjects without texture can be quite boring. A portrait without texture loses its humanity and more closely approximates a store-displayed mannequin or wax figure, modelled only for its ability to freeze a pose for years without flinching. Angled light produces beautiful texture. Photographers and models alike ought to appreciate texture for the sense of reality it confers versus the airbrushed and software-enhanced “plastic” look of manipulated images.
  4. Light creates mood. There’s a reason why candlelight dinners are lit with candles. Its not because its cheaper to light the occasion with a candle than with a light bulb. Its simply because of the inescapable truth that some forms of lighting are more appropriate for specific occasions than others are. Think about it; even in an age where electricity is both cheap and reliable, for the greater part, the candle did not fade, relegated only to the cherished reminiscences of the “back in my days” storytellers. Beautiful golden evening sunlight somehow always gives us that warm contemplative feeling regardless of when or where the images are viewed. It’s a feeling I’m positive we all relate to and cherish.
There is much more that can be said about the utility and beauty of light. But this of course would not be considered a rant on light if I failed to keep it “light”. As much as I love shooting I also love viewing beautiful images. Beautiful images are considerate of beautiful light and reflect the photographer’s view on how a scene or subject should be lit. For those of you who already have that deep appreciation for light, keep at it. And for those of you who have come to take light for granted, be thou reminded of the photographer’s greatest commandment: “thou shalt love thy light”.
End of rant.
Written By

Author of Roaming Shooter.

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