By Ibarionex R. Perello, Photography By Richard Hamilton Smith
Several years ago, I got stuck. Though I had been shooting for more than 20 years, I found that a day's worth of shooting was delivering only lackluster results. The images were sharp, the compositions tight, the exposures dead-on, but as I contemplated my images, I recognized that I was repeating myself. I was creating the same shots week after week, month after month. The photographs were technically good, but they left me uninspired.
I turned to my collection of photo books and started carefully looking at the works of my favorite photographers, including Sam Abell, David Muench and Galen Rowell. As I studied their images, I felt myself physically reacting to them. It was then that I realized why I was in a rut. I wasn't seeing the light.
Yes, I was aware enough of the light to know that the best time to shoot was at dusk or dawn. I knew about getting an accurate exposure or using fill-flash to fill in shadows in the foreground. I was using the light, but I wasn't seeing it, I wasn't observing it, and I wasn't making light my subject.
As I looked at more and more work, I awoke to the realization that I had become fixated on the objects that I was photographing. Whether it was shooting rock formations along the Pacific shore or a stand of Joshua trees in the desert, I was focusing more on the physical object in front of my lens, rather than the way light reacted to and interacted with that object. Once I realized that my true subject was light, both I and my photography were transformed.
1The New World I'm fortunate to live close to the Angeles National Forest in California, where I frequently hike and photograph. At one location where I often shoot, I'm particularly drawn to the rolling hills and the trees that dress the landscape. But when I compared my images to those produced by my favorite photographers, my images were left wanting. Yes, I had a wonderful view, but that alone didn't translate into a great photograph.
So I visited this site and, without raising my camera, I began to look at the scene with the light in mind. I'd hike there in the early morning on one day. Another day, I'd arrive late in the afternoon or sometimes even at noon. But instead of focusing on the natural beauty, I looked to see what the light was doing.
I saw not only the bluish glow in the morning or the warmth in the late afternoon, but also how the light dappled through the overhanging trees and hit the ground, how it reflected differently in separate areas of a shallow stream, and how the diffused light muted the tones and colors to almost a monochrome hue during an early-morning fog.
As I looked at both the grand power and the subtlety of light, scenes that were so familiar became new to me.