Saturday Evening Post #106: For the Love of Light

Someone once said, “Everything that comes from the camera, comes from the heart (Source: Your humble editor)

Now you might instantly think of some of the great emotive pictures that have been taken. The sharing of precious intimate moments between a grandmother and granddaughter perhaps.  The smile of proud family members at a graduation. The joy and delight of opening a special present.
All heart sharing experiences.

Alternatively you might recall photographs that have told of less happy moments or have shown  in great graphic details the destruction of the earth’s resources or man’s inhumanity toward fellow earth inhabitants.
All heart sharing experiences.

But.   There are other times when photographs are taken, merely in a mechanical or perhaps perfunctory way.
A tourist steps out of the bus into some historically important area, snaps of 2 or 3 shots, and goes into the local bistro for a meal.
Recently I saw some photos taken at the Grand Canyon.  Most of the people in the photo were more engrossed in what was on their mobile phone than the vista around them.
Heart sharing experiences still. But a heart that is not invovled in the mood, feeling or light of the moment.

As photographers we used to talk a lot about the “Language of Light”. Nowadays the discussion is almost always about what creative style, filter or add-on that can be applied in post production. My guess is because the heart is not in the photo experience, but is enamoured by some ‘Wow factor’ the designer has chosen.

Joe McNally, has a video training programme called “The Language of Light”. Joe has developed a visual style that is somewhat easily recognised. Great use of light, clever settings, the right model, and brilliant use of the medium.

In my formative years the concepts of the Language of Light was a major skill that was ‘drilled’ into neophytes. One of my early mentors spoke of it as, “We start with a dark canvas-the shadows- and we paint on that canvas with our brushes- the light.  Each stroke reveals a little about our subject.  When we have revealed enough, we stop. The remaining shadows help to set the mood.”

We were required to be able to discuss some of the major elements of the language.
The Direction. Where was the light coming from. Front, side, back, overhead, diffuse etc.

The Colour. These days we fiddle with White Balance, but it used to be called Colour Temperature.  Blues tend toward cool, Reds tend to stir the senses. Greens can be calming. These days there’s a slider for that. 🙂

The Quality. Hard midday sun, soft diffused, rim light, chiaroscuro. And how we handle it with scrims, flash fill, diffusers and filters.

The Quantity. And how we handle exposure. Too much, the mood might be lost, too little we struggle for delineation of the subject. Good light-bad light. Or perhaps just light that doesn’t match the subject or mood.

As learning photographers, we had to be able to discuss those terms at length, and sure enough on the end-of-the-year exam paper would be such a question.

Q 123. (5 points)
You are given a white china plate and a polished silver fork. Discuss your choice of light and what steps you would take to keep the detail of the plate while maintaining the filagree of the fork. (Use a diagramme if necessary)

Huh!, If necessary.  If you didn’t sketch at least one or more lighting designs you’d only get one mark, no matter if you filled three pages of detailed explanation. 🙂

These days no doubt it would be a multiple choice on some moodle platform. Simply fill in the check box of choice. No diagrams needed.

Q. 2
You are making an Instagram emoji. What lighting consideration would you choose.

A. Google to find latest trending style
B. None, my iphone 2345 doesn’t need light
C. Check to be sure that the lighting is not being exploited by underpaying third world profiteers
4. Not a relevant question.

The one thing that always seems to be missing from the discussions is the mood.  What is the maker really trying to express.  What indeed is coming from the heart.

We had an early morning start the other day, and by sheer chance the weather presented us with some fine rolling mists.

It was good to be able to enjoy the light playing on the shapes and shadows.