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.


10 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #106: For the Love of Light

  1. Understanding light is so relevant to photography, after all, capturing the light is what it is about. Just as capturing the wind (sound waves) is the basis of sound engineering. So many ‘photogs’ just don’t understand this, although by sheer fluke they may achieve an outstanding result at times. One does need to think about the light and the use of it. Love the misty Sneydes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As in all arts and crafts, there some basics that move from genre to genre. Photography is no different. Although now it seems to me, its easier to reach for a new ‘style’ or download a new plugin. Photography will change. In my lifetime ISO has gone from double digit numbers to incredible values. Camera and lens technology has almost outstripped our ability to get the most from it.
      Such is a growing art. Else, it would be dead.

      Had to walk down from the car service place and the mists were irresistable


  2. A wonderful post David with current relevance and so well expressed. The modern tak is so caught in the technology and the games that can be played with it that the subject which is the object of attention gets lost in and robbed of its true appreciation. Interesting how the latest modifications are to alter the image rather than enhance its mood to appreciate it is. This is an outstanding post David, and encompasses some of the real issues that confront photography and the changes that come with the new young digital phone era. The same is said for advertising and trying to catch the attention of young people today, it is so different to our day. I have also missed your welcome comments and visits to my posts lately, and hope you are both enjoying your freedom once again after a a very long lock down. Enjoy your week my friend 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ashley, first apologies for not getting to your posts. On the to do list. Just as we’ve gotten back into the field, I suddenly have discovered there are not as many hours in the day. 🙂
      Appreciate your thoughts on the direction of the post.
      Light and the way we photographers deal with its opportunities has been a life long study, and ever time out in the field is a new challenge.
      Photography as an art or craft has changed continously. It is always on the bleeding edge of technology. Much like the printing industry and as you suggest, also marekting.
      My Tai Chi master makes the point that if we continue to just to the same movements in the same way and never allow ourselves to experiment, then it is a dead art. Real art grows and develops with the artist.

      The new directions that tech, and particularly the freedom of expression via various online places all give a nuance to the old style. Something worth embracing in there for each of us.

      Else all good, and I’ll visit soon.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting thoughts David, and a beautiful image for us to contemplate too. I think we never cease learning the art and craft of photography, as with other artistic endeavours. The journey is so rewarding. May it always remain so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Greetings Eleanor, the wonderful thing about art is that so many basic concepts are entwined in each pursuit. I often find my ponderings on Tai Chi are expressed in the photos I seek out, I’m sure if I were musically inclinded it would add another layer to the expression.
      The journey is the reality, to arrive is to scary to contemplate. I was working with a mentor a couple of years back who challenged me, with “Well, have you taken your last great photo?”


  4. As usual I’m binging on your delightful posts again. This one has brought too many thoughts to put in a ‘comment’ box, thus I’ll share just this special moment in my photographic life i’ve recalled while reading your post.
    Once I was asked by a friend in her email “Why do you take photos?” I pondered several months on this koan-like question. I carried it with me through the wetlands. When I apologised again for not answering it, she wrote that I had answered it already. Somewhere in my previous email I wrote that I loved watching some bird in the light of a rising sun… According to her, my answer was “because I love it”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tis true, and because we love it, we keep going out. What? to find the next great photograph, an image that will bring the world to its knees.
      Just because there is something ethereal, if not mystical that occurs each time I interact with the universe, time and place, and press the shutter.
      Ansel Adams said,
      “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

      Keep takin’ photos. We do

      Photography, since 1827

      Liked by 1 person

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