« Sunday Support Group: An Update about the 'TOP Visitor Center' | Main | The Biggest (Smallest?) Reason to Go Micro 4/3 »

Monday, 17 September 2018


Ah yes. An old friend of mine, Jørn Toxsværd who was a name in Danish photography for decades, once talked about how in a quiet evening manning an international competition (“The Golden”, I was prepresented myself), he decided to figure out what would be the common denominator for the photos which had made their way into this censored exhibition. He found that they all had The Light.

It’s an odd thing, isn’t it? Sure, photography means “draw with light,” but by definition all photographs are made with light, so why are some kinds of light so much more aesthetic to us?

Yes Mike, its all about the light.

I would imagine that this is why sunrises and sunsets are popular amongst photographers of every skillset, but especially amongst the aspirant.

As JMW Turner is reputed to have said on his deathbed, and as admirably conveyed to the modern world by Tim Spall in the film "Mr. Turner"...

"THE SUN IS GOD!" ha ha....

... and he stopped breathing.

By definition, photography is a process of recording “light”. If that light happens to be bouncing off (or blasting from) stuff in interesting ways, so much the better.

Light, and its strategic conceptual usage is the tool that hobbyists tend to overlook or misuse most in their photography. Light sculpts form. Light sculpts mood. Light manages the focus of attention. Light, not the camera, is the photographer’s tool.

St. Ansel would sit for hours waiting for the light to be like he wanted. No surprise there.

One of the reasons I never was any good at tabletop stuff was I am a dunce about lights.


Send us a nice image at the pool table.

Dan K

"In the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, for instance, they insisted on flat, overcast light for every picture, specifically to remove the light from being part of the subject"

That's a fallacy; it only means that they preferred that particular type of light. Since photography is, by definition, capturing the light reflected off objects in the frame, light is, in essence, the only subject of a photograph.

Each photographer, for each photograph, chooses to use what light is reflected back to their camera. Some choose to ignore the type of light, be it from artistic or technical goals, or from the need to document what is in front of them, whatever the light may be. All of those are choices about how the photographer will work with the reflected light coming to their camera.

Be it studio photography (and its close cousin, cinematography), landscapes, reportage, street, documentary, travel, scientific, etc... the light determines, and is ultimately, what is being photographed.

Kinda related topic.I guess lots of people will know about and use this - https://www.photoephemeris.com/ - just putting it here for anyone who doesn't. (I have no connection BTW)

I've found it a great planning tool if you need to organise the light for a particular shot ( hehe ) , and also endlessly fascinintaing just from your armchair

Did I really say fascinitatining.. or something? Been listening to US presidents too much

The light from above-

Over the course of several years Richard Misrach photographed the Golden Gate Bridge from the same location (his porch), but under different lighting and weather conditions.

"To be master of photography means to be master of light."

Joseph von Sternberg
(from his autobiography "Fun in a chinese laundry"

Did you know Monet had his kitchen painted “yellow?

YB Hudson III

> is a photograph a picture of the thing in the picture, or the light on the thing?

Well, since the word photograph comes from the Greek words 'phos' en 'graphê', meaning 'light' and 'drawing', respectively, it literally means 'drawing with light', or perhaps even 'drawing of light'. So I'd guess the second.

Clyde Butcher, he of large format/Everglades (sort of) fame, has stated he has no magic. He uses bog standard film, metering and developing. He just looks for the right light. Whether one likes his work or not, that's a pretty compelling methodology.

'You can never stand in the same river twice'
My house is inland (Bucks County Pennsylvania), and even though I spend most of my time there I take far more pictures at my house near the ocean. I probably have more time when I am there but there is an element of 'going to school' when I am there.
In places where land and sea, and sky meet the light seems to change more often. So much so that if you see picture you need to run and get it, because in two minutes it won't be there. But if you are patient another different picture will come along.
You can just sit on a bench and watch the changes.
Now I understand that it is true everywhere but it seems concentrated there. In fact, my 'school' has made me a better photographer everywhere.
So while all our pictures are pictures of light, some are also about other stuff too.

Without light we wouldn’t even have the term ‘photography’.

To Ken’s ‘enlightened’ statement, I’d add that light reveals texture, often an important tactile quality to a picture.

And, as I keep repeating myself, the key tools for the photographer are between the ears.... but not everyone sees the light.

It's true that good pictures are usually of light, but the best pictures IMHO are of emotions, specifically, an interaction between those of the photographer and the viewer.

Glasses for pool. Seriously!

Check out the poem Light, at Thirty-Two. by Michael Blumenthal.

If anyone is as much of a slugabed as me ....and happens to live somewhere the landscape has very simple lines and form ...ie moorland .. in my case Dartmoor UK .. then they would know the joy of winter

Now at last the light starts casting its spell at a sensible time of the morning


This is all well and good, but time and light wait for no man; do it whilst you can.

Of course, like Walter, my pro days are in the past tense, but I find it works slightly differently for me: I am not a pre-planner sort of soul. I wander around and allow whatever catches my eye to be the determinant of whether I click or just walk on by (old songs never die); it's up to them, the subjects, to grab me or not. Living in a little town in the back of over there, things don't change much: the opportunity to reshoot is always there, but I almost never do, for the buzz is in the moment, like a smile to you from a married woman having dinner a few tables away from you: don't look for more or something else - just savour the moment or feign short-sightedness if she isn't to your taste; either way, the smile may be better than the meal. Be content that she felt benign.

Feel about images as about women, and life takes on new meaning. Assuming, of course, you're a man. Otherwise, lets pre- visualise this thing and act accordingly.


Ken's comment "Light, not the camera, is the photographer’s tool" reminds me that this truth seems more evident in motion pictures.

I came to photography from filmmaking. Cinematographers spend most of their working time on the light, not the camera. Read an issue of "American Cinematographer" magazine -- it's 90% about lighting strategies and lighting diagrams, 5% about choice of film stock or the "look" of the digital image, and 5% about cameras, framing, etc.

There are three kinds of lighting styles: realistic, stylized and bogus. To know light you need to study light. I analyze the lighting everywhere I go. Because of this I have millions of lighting-diagrams stored between my ears—ready to be used at a moments notice. Some are realistic and some are stylized; but non are bogus.

There is a difference between lighting and illumination—a simple concept that unfortunately many can neither see nor fathom.

I remember reading a Ralph Gibson quote which went (as best as I recall): "When you're on location, the light is always perfect. It's the photographer's interpretation of it that is sometimes lacking." Which is kind of comforting (you can always make a picture regardless of the light), and kind of not (if you can't, that's on you).

Lighting; illumination...

There is both a reason and a beauty to the white umbrella.

Illumination most certainly, but fast, more than good enough and still capable of interesting light, and practically fool-proof.

Busy studious don't usually want to revert to 30s Hollywood.


The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007