“Seek your own vision, and create great photos!” is our tag line and our philosophy. And we do it using what we call the “magic of light and mystery of shadow.” “Rembrandt Light” is often used to describe this type of light.
There are always exceptions to any examples and illustrations, so keep that in mind as we talk generally.
We firmly believe that dramatic darks and highlights are effective in setting each other off in an image. Otherwise, the eye does not know where to look. As photographers, we are like the conductors of orchestras. Just as a conductor guides his audience through a musical piece, we guide our viewer’s eye through our image. If everything in an image has the same or similar values (lights to darks, and there are exceptions, of course), the viewer doesn’t know what the subject is.
Take the image above. The viewer’s eye circles around the image from the surf patterns in the foreground to the lightning in the background, and back again. Or the eye starts with the stormy sky and makes its rounds.
Light can sculpt, create a mood, draw the viewer’s eye into a subject, and/or guide the viewer’s eye around.
In the next two images, contrasting elements make the subjects stand out. If the tree were against a dark background, it would not show up. The colors add to the contrast of the silhouette. Getting really, really low to the ground made this image possible. Otherwise, the branches would have been lost against trees in the distance rather than standing on their own. Patience with a capital ”P” is the key to composition.
In the image below, the dark sky is essential to making those bridge cables glow. Allowing the bridge to take center stage keeps the viewer from escaping off to the night.
Lights and darks can create a mood as they did below. The shadows on the headstone give an eerie effect. If the image had been made during the middle of the day, it would likely have been not nearly as interesting. As it is, the viewer can explore the image and discover different elements.
In many cities, there is much to be found down at the river in the early morning. Joggers flash by, ferries cross, barges glide along. A yoga instructor goes through her routine, her dark outfit contrasting with the foggy pier beyond. Paying attention to her positioning within the frame is critical.
There are other ways to use lights and darks to make an effective image. Here, the reflections and light playing off the super-wet pavement and teeming rain adds interest to the image, and the subject, bravely taking shelter under his umbrella, stands out. The person with the umbella in the background is an added surprise. This, again, is where patience pays off.
What many people don’t appreciate is that darker exposures or subdued light can bring out the richness of color. If this morning scene with its layers of colors were well lit at noon, the colors would not exist in this manner.
Light can be subtle as in the next image. A dark sky is offset by a gentle, almost-surreal shaft of light on the old building. The relative darks of the grasses sculpt interesting shapes in the water.
Oftentimes, less is more. A simple string of lights against a dark sky with an added bonus of a moon keeps the viewer engaged in the image. The positioning of the moon is important so that it stands clear of the lights. Even the lens-flare patterns add to the composition. So many people are afraid of lens flare, and we find that often it is a plus.
Many people head out to view the sunrise or sunset. While pretty to watch, it can make for some mundane snapshots. Stay there after the sun goes down, and you can find some lovely alpenglow lighting. Keep your composition simple, and the light becomes the hero.