Light enters our eyes in different qualities from various sources, in many shapes at numerous times and it’s often taken for granted. While a good photographer can see light often ignored by others, great photographers can also feel the light. When a great photographer wakes up in the morning from a homeostasis state their appreciation of the light that filters through the windows is more passionate than most. These types of photographers understand the qualities of light at various times of day and often it ignites their passion for photography at an unplanned moment.
They understand the purpose of light around their subject and how it intermixes with the shadows of an image to create shape and form. They realize that the absence of light is darkness that leads to shadows and eventually light itself. They know how to find the light first, as they’ve learned to understand it through experience incrementally. Light will speak to them without a sound. This ability came with practice.
Obviously one way to practice is to shoot every chance your get, yet another way is to stop and look around you. What sources of light do you see? A window, a light above your head, a lamp on your desk or if your lucky, the light from your 150-gallon saltwater aquarium? If you said, “Yes, he’s right,” to a combination of the above, you’re an average photographer who probably takes great pictures.
If you said, “wait, there’s more,” and pointed out the four walls in your room, the floor, the mirror, your desktop, your computer monitor, television, or even the light off your shirt, then you’re probably an above average photographer who takes photographs more often than pictures. Light falls on everything in its path, however, it’s the reflection and diffusion of that light that we actually see and rarely do we focus on the source of light in its purest form.
Practice “looking for the light” in every room you walk in for the next month—challenge yourself to find the source and direction of light in every corner, off every wall, floor or door, as even items like your refrigerator reflects light too. Look to see how the quality of light is changed from a reflected surface. Understand that reflected light takes on a different quality than transmitted light.
Another helpful method you can use to sharpen your skills to see light is a technique I call Quick Reaction Timing, or QRT. I often teach this technique at my glamour workshops, it’s taught more to help mentally condition my attendees’ hand-eye coordination so they learn to “see” that fraction of time when their subject is at their finest. The original QRT exercise is designed to help eliminate shutter-trigger-finger-hesitation but in all actuality, you’re learning to “see the light” too.
While the QRT technique is explained more in-depth in my first book, the concept is simple. First allocate at least one day per month or quarter for yourself and your photography—at the local zoo. Get there early and fully rested from the night before, as your mind needs to be fresh. Early is key as the animals are at their liveliest when they first wake-up and it’s feeding time, so they’re hungry and frisky and they will be looking for light. This is early light that changes constantly as the sun rises from horizontally oblique to directly overhead. The quality of light transforms from soft and warm to harsh and bright during this constant change of light direction. The animals change with the light too, from seeking soothing warmth to taking the light for granted.
That’s the idea, to train your mind to “look” for the funniest things those loveable creatures are doing while you’re exercising your mind to look for light. As you look, you’ll “see the light” in many forms and places. You’ll feel the passion when you find those shadows and you’ll feel the exhilaration when you capture that great image. The animals will find the light for you, as often they are looking to bask in warmth early on and eventually expelling their energy into the sun’s path.
As you stroll through the zoo, take your mind off the animals for a minute and look for light bouncing off bodies of water, walls or even people’s clothing as they walk past—it may be as simple as the water fountain you take a drink to quench your thirst. It may become more difficult as you wait for the light to change in a predictable fashion as we know light moves from East to West.
Practice this technique at least once per month or twice in per month in the beginning, eventually making a habit for a few times each year. Realize it keeps your mind photographically sharp while supporting your local zoo—if you’re lucky, they’ll buy your stock images for marketing brochures, or swap you free admission for prints—zoo’s already have low budgets. Worse case you’ll know you’ve done a good dead by supplying them with images they can use even if it’s just for a by-line in the caption. You might also get lucky and sell some of the images through a photo stock agency while improving your shooting techniques and increasing your publishing credentials.
The whole idea is to learn see light that will eventually teach you to feel its quality. Call it instinct, experience, knowledge or all the above, but when a photographer can actually feel the light it’s because they found each other. Like the floor beneath our feet, light is often taken for granted, even the little bit of light that filters in our bedroom while we sleep in our homeostasis state of mind. Thanks and God Bless, Rolando.
Thanks Rolando for covering this subject. What a great exercise to try to photograph animals in a zoo.
It’s refreshing to not hear about mega-pixels, white balance, film vs. digital, APC vs. Full Frame, etc.
I’ll pass this along to my readers.