You hear all the time about the importance of light in photography. And most often light is combined with rich color as being one and the same thing. I believe there is a myth now being perpetuated among landscape photographers in particular. It’s that light and natural color saturation are to be sought out and “obtained” in your photos, almost to the exclusion of all else.
I’ve said quite a number of times in this blog that light is important. And it is! Quality of light, specifically how rich and soft it is, is certainly worth seeking out, for any subject or type of photography. But I think many of us have gone too far.
By the way, most of the photos in this post I’ve never posted (even on Facebook) and they don’t appear on my website. Enjoy!
Here are a few things about light that I think you should give some thought to:
- Light will come. This is the best thing about light on planet Earth. It is so varied, so wonderful in its ability to reinvent itself every single day, that if you’re patient, the light you wish for will come. It’s not just that, if you’re patient and persistent, you don’t need to settle for “sub-par” light. The truth is that you can shoot that “knock your socks off” light one night, and then the next night get nice, subtle light that’s more appropriate for your subject.
- Have you digested that last point? Light, though very important, should in most cases not trump subject. You can even add composition as being more important than light. Composition and subject are so tightly tied together that it’s near impossible to think of them as being separate. If you let it, light can be the subject. Then you’ve succeeded in making a photo that, while it will invariably get plenty of wows and love on the internet, is just another photo (among millions) that is about light.
- Do not shoot the light. Now I’ll admit when I see great light I go like a madman looking for something to shoot. It is part of what being a photographer is all about. Don’t fight that, it’s fun! All I’m saying is that if you regard your photography as an art form, your process should be much more about subject and composition first, then light. If you put light first you’re setting yourself up for getting away from using photography as a way to express yourself, which is the point as far as I’m concerned.
- Think of light as just one more element in your photograph. You have two choices with natural light. Either make the best of what you’ve got in front of you or come back tomorrow, or the next day, or next week. If you have a favorite spot near home that you return to time and time again, and then go on a trip where you have but one chance at a given location, you know what a tyrannical master light can be. But think of it like a model who doesn’t show up one day. Give her another chance and she’ll probably show the next day.
- There is such a thing as light that is too good. There is no photographer I know who will agree with that statement when I say it like that. But now, after some years of chasing light, I know it to be true. Everything depends on your subject and composition. But sometimes, the light just seems to be so good that it swamps your subject. Or, to put it another way, that stupendous light tends to overwhelm the intention of your photograph, whether you realize it at the time or not. If you’re a typical photographer who’s in love with great light, I’m guessing you’re not aware of it when it happens.
- As you mature as a photographer, you’ll come to desire different light for different subjects and compositions. There is no such thing as light that is perfect for everything. It all depends on what you want to do with that light. Of course it doesn’t hurt to experiment, to try unconventional light for your subject. But if you can figure that out you’re pretty far along in knowing both photography and your own style.
I do believe I’ve said all there is to say about this subject. In fact I’ve never heard anyone in photography talk about this, and I think it may be the most important of my photo-related posts. But if you know of some book or blog that talks about light this way, please enlighten me! Hope your holiday preparations are coming along nicely. Happy shooting, and use that light judiciously!