Considering Light

When you were first being taught about a camera, you were told that a photograph is a record of light (hence the name “photograph”). The only thing coming in through the lens and being recorded by the sensor is light, so it’s clear to see why people are convinced that light plays such an important role in pictures, maybe even the most important. You might even here some people say that they disregard other subjects altogether and focus only on light when they are making pictures. Those kinds of statements are difficult for me to accept at face value, but they speak to the importance of light in all situations.

The very thing that light has as an advantage can also be considered one of its downfalls, which is that the “right” light is usually fleeting. Light is often what makes a photograph unique and what makes it possible for numerous photographers to photograph the same subject with similar compositions while still getting a variety of pleasing results. The direction, color, and intensity of light are all constantly changing over the course of a day and from one day to the next. So what if the sun never comes out below the clouds on the horizon, the sky doesn’t catch fire, and a golden backlight doesn’t intensify all your subject’s detailed edges? If the light is the most important component of a photograph, then we could be waiting a long time before we have any use for a particular scene. Maybe we never will. You either accept that statement as unavoidable, or you find a way to work around it.

Many places in the world (not the least of which would be Juneau) have a prevailing type of light, and certain photographers have been extremely successful finding subjects to photograph in whatever kind of light that is. Some places it might be long days under cloudless blue skies; and other places it will be the even, soft, unidirectional light that is filtered through thick clouds. As a photographer, you might decide it’s your job to show the beauty of how your surroundings “really” are, not how they are once every ten years. If that’s the case, then light is forced to take a back seat to important subject matter and creative compositions. One thing is for sure, if you don’t have the light, you sure better have both other things in abundance.

My preference is to live in the middle ground where sometimes I need to have that special light that comes and goes in moments and other times I need to find ways to work creatively with the usual light. Where the light ranks in importance to you is for you to decide, and next time we’ll throw composition into the mix.

If you’re in my Landscape Photography class, I would like you to write another 100 work response to this blog entry, and by all means, put on some warm clothes and group up and go out and take some photos.

Nugget Spires