It’s All About the Light!
Most people know the origin of the word “photography,” but for those who do not, according to Wikipedia and other resources …
… “photography” was created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), “light” and γραφή (graphé) “representation by means of lines” or “drawing”, together meaning “drawing with light”.
Think of a piece of white marble sculpture. Without light, it is nothing. It needs light and shadow, line and form to come alive.
Photographs need the same elements to make an impact. There is that old expression that you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but if the composition is strong, and you have paid attention to the light, it is amazing what you can produce.
Above, the pre-sunrise glow in the sky etched some of the boulders and cascaded along the foreground, providing a backdrop for a couple of foreground plants. The combination creates depth in the image.
The click of the shutter is traditionally only the first step in getting to your final print. We have had many people who did not appreciate how important developing or editing an image was until they saw what their fellow participants did in one of our workshops. While we keep saying, “Photoshop is not a verb,” a raw image that comes out of the camera tends to be flat. Just as we worked on an image in the old darkroom days, we do so carefully in the digital age.
We prefer using words such as “developing” or “editing” over “processing” or “post-processing.” For us, the latter has connotations of hyper-saturation, too much clarity, crunchiness, and other elements that you will not generally find in a top-notch, museum collection.
First, you have to see the light, be aware of it, and study how it enhances shapes and contours. In this photograph, the simplicity of a black-and-white treatment got rid of the distracting elements while, with prudent developing, maintained critical lights and shadows.
There are times that a file comes right out of the camera and needs only a tiny bit of sharpening. Here, it was simply a matter of knowing where to be at the right time of day and exercising patience for all the elements to come together. Light and shadow, line and form.
One does not need sunny, blue skies to make memorable photographs. Years ago, I wrote a blog on “Blue Skies, Who Needs’em!” Here is a case in point. The early-morning mist on the Seine caught the sunlight and diffused it, allowing it to reflect off the various surfaces and adding life to them.
Photographing into the light can lead to some dramatic effects as here. A longer exposure smoothed out the background water, creating another place for the light to land, reflect, and lead the viewer’s eye down the rivulet in the foreground.
There are rewards for those who arise at 0-dark-thirty to catch dawn’s early light. A subtle reflection in the water, a glow in the sky, and the lit pilot’s house complete the mood of those early hours when all is quiet.
Still lifes are fun to do for many, but they need interesting light to work. Without the dappled light and sharp shadow, this photograph would have been pretty bland.
While this may be a familiar viewpoint, the timing was critical to make it different. Lights were still on in the city, yet the day was slowly breaking. The addition of a moving vaporetto and its wake add elements of light and create foreground interest.
As noted above, shooting into the light can be very effective, especially when you use the graphics of long shadows. Paying attention and waiting for a person to come along can make the photograph more interesting and add an element of surprise.
Some people are afraid of “blown-out” light. We are not. With scant detail outside, the viewer’s eye is drawn into the thatched house and the woman cooking over her wood stove. The backlit smoke from the fire wafting upwards creates mood.
To take your photography to your next level, join us at Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures and check out our Calendar for links to the above workshops as well as many others. We take our photography seriously, but not ourselves. We firmly believe in the fun factor — undoubtedly why we have such a high percentage of returning alumni!
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