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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Warm Light, Cold Light

For David Stoecklein, any light will do. He takes what the scene gives him and makes the mood match the subject for inspiring photographs.

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David Stoecklein - Warm Light, Cool Light
Whether it’s morning’s first cool light or hazy midday, Stoecklein says that his love of the light isn’t just about its color. He wants to use the light's contrast to set his subjects apart.

"I remember when I first started out years and years ago when we were doing black-and-white," he recalls. "The whole thing was about contrast. You built your photo around contrast; everything was based on contrast and trying to find contrast. The contrast still is what makes the picture. In other words, on a totally flat day, you have to find some way to make the contrast in your photo, and that’s what you’re searching for, whether it’s in the cool shadows or if it’s some highlight—it could be anything. I’m always looking for that little piece."

Stoecklein suggests capitalizing on that magical light when and where you find it, but don’t get greedy. If you get your hopes up that the perfect light is right around the corner, you’re bound to be constantly disappointed. Instead, keep an open mind, polish those off-hour shooting skills, and be ready to work with the tiniest bit of perfect light whenever you might find it.

Mastering the color of light to create and enhance mood is invaluable in making more evocative photographs. You can use tools like your camera’s white balance and filters to manipulate and enhance the look of the ambient scene. Also, in postproduction, digital tools like Photoshop and various plug-ins give you the opportunity to further enhance the look.

Says Stoecklein, "The biggest trap and the most depressing thing for a guy like me is if I get too excited in advance that I’m going to have this really cool picture. I have it all preconceived, and then the light doesn’t happen or something like that. So I have to adapt. I’ll go two days in a row, and it will be just unbelievable—I’m so excited, I can’t sleep at night. Then I go out on the third day, and the weather goes to hell, and you can’t even get any blue light—you can’t get anything. So it’s times like that when you have to go back to that little book, Who Moved My Cheese? You have to buck up and say 'Well, okay, so now everything isn’t the way I thought it was going to be, so how am I going to deal with this?' That’s important: being able to change midstream.

David Stoecklein - Warm Light, Cool Light
"I’m looking for the great picture of the day," adds Stoecklein. "It may be at five in the morning or it may be 10 o’clock that night that I get it. Or it may be at high noon. I’m always searching for something. I make things happen within that piece of light. A lot of times, some of my favorite photos are just with that little sliver of light when there’s a bit of light on the horizon and there's no light on the ground and there’s very little light left in the sky. You pick up that little sliver and use that to your advantage. Even when it just breaks during the middle of the day, your subject may be totally in the shade, but the highlight behind you is what’s giving you the contrast."

The best advice Stoecklein has for understanding how to work with any light source is simple: practice. He has been doing it for years, and it pays off at every shoot when he’s able to make stunning images in amazing light or when he’s able to turn nothing light into something spectacular.

" 'Boy, you sure made something out of nothing!'" Stoecklein says of a recent client’s comments. "That’s what you have to do. I did the same thing the week before, right? And I did the same thing the week before that. It wasn’t like my first time out of the box. I remember years and years ago, I had a big job coming up and I knew they were going to expect me to shoot at 11 o’clock and one o’clock in all this bad light. So I went out and practiced taking pictures in bad light to see what I could do to make them better, what exposures I could use. I worry sometimes that I’m using the same angles and the same light for four clients four weeks in a row. But the pictures all look different anyway. It’s all about the light."

To see more of David Stoecklein's photography, visit his website at www.stoeckleinphotography.com.

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