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Saturday, July 1, 2006

Light On The Landscape

Rediscover the world around you by "seeing" light

Discerning Light
As if the veil had been lifted, I began looking at the light everywhere. I observed how light appeared in my house during different times of the day. I saw how light was reflected and shaped by buildings and structures as I drove to and from work. I began not only to "see" light, but also to be sensitive to it. When I returned to the outdoors to photograph, I was able to see light in the landscape in a much different way. I stopped judging it.

I had grown to think that there was "good" and "bad" light. The best light was only to be had in the early morning and late afternoon; everything else was a waste. And though the "magic hour" offers a definite advantage to the landscape photographer, I realized that this black-and-white way of judging light made me not look carefully at the light that existed throughout the day.

Yes, the noonday sun could be harsh and result in flat images, but that same sunlight reflected off a large grouping of rocks could serve as a natural reflector to an area in shadows where a leaf lay. I could then compose that shot with a wide-angle lens, making the leaf the anchor point and the group of rocks behind it the backdrop.

If I trained my eye to see the light and all its different manifestations throughout the day, I could begin to anticipate how light would interact with the different elements within the landscape. I could look at a scene and visualize where the light and shadows would fall, helping me to choose the best location to set my tripod. That familiarity with light would eliminate the guesswork of when and where to be and provided me with just what I needed to increase my chances for a successful photograph.

The Transforming Subject
Light isn't static. It's constantly changing and being shaped by its environment. It's malleable and can be subject to both the moisture and pollutants in the air, as well as be redirected or absorbed by the physical objects that surround us. It's not just one thing, but a myriad of possibilities, and if we're aware of them, we can use them to make a photograph that's unique to us.

That uniqueness is important. I see hundreds, if not thousands, of images every year of some of the world's most famous photo landscapes. And though some of those images have been shot in wonderful light, I feel as if I'm looking at the exact same image over and over again. That familiarity comes about because many photographers simply mimic the vision of other photographers.

Yet I occasionally find photographers whose work in these very same locations brings a unique and personal take to their images. They're keenly aware of the light and bring their perception of the world to bear in their photographs. They're not satisfied to duplicate the photographers who they have come to admire, but to complement and honor previous work with their own vision. When that happens, I look at their images and feel the rush that I experience whenever I see photographs that are exceptional, beautiful and moving.

4 Getting Better
This newfound sensitivity to light has made me a better photographer. It has instilled in me confidence that I can see the world around me in ways I hadn't previously considered. It's a confidence that allows me to create better images, whether I'm using the latest high-end digital SLR or a point-and-shoot camera. And I don't exaggerate. I've frequently taken my compact digital camera out into the field, so that it was light, and only light, on which I was focusing rather than an assortment of lenses or multiple electronic settings.

Over the years, as I've had the privilege to meet and speak to the great photographers about their work, I've had this realization about seeing light confirmed over and over again. I now recognize that light is the photographer's true subject. It's both the raw material and the tool that allows each of us to create something beautiful and unique. And it's available to all of us, regardless of race, class or the cost of our photographic equipment.

It's available to all who have the eyes to see.




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