Do you see the light?


imageBridgewater, Connecticut © Steven Willard

That may seem an odd question. Of course you see the light, you can’t see without it, you might respond. But what I’m asking is do you see the light, or do you take it for granted?

After a pretty hard winter here in New England when we saw days and days of flat, grey, almost featureless skies, and flat, grey, almost featureless light I can say I have taken renewed interest in the light here. As photographers it is probably natural that we give a little more thought and appreciation to light and its qualities, but I have noticed that there have been times when I concentrated too much attention on looking for the subject and not enough attention looking critically at the light and how it might affect the photographic rendering of those subjects.

The next time you are at an art museum, or the next time you are paging through a book of classical paintings, take note, is it the subject, or the artist’s representation of light that is what is memorable? I’ll wager that except for the portraits, most of the paintings depend more on the artists use of light than on the subject matter. For all the drama of crashing waves in a J.M.W. Turner seascape, it’s the light that really makes the image. Or look to Albert Bierstadt and his monumental paintings of Niagra Falls or the Rocky Mountains. It is the artists skill at rendering light we find remarkable more that the subject. Remember that I said except for portraits. But even in portraiture, it is the subject captured in the best light that is so remarkable. Think of Vermeer, Rembrandt or Goya, and as wonderful as the faces are, it is the impression of the light that often comes first to mind. Of all the things those painters had to master it was the ability to use paint, bush and canvas to capture that sense of light present in their paintings that elevate them as masters.

As a photographer I have it easy. I don’t have to be able to draft an image. I can change perspective just by changing the focal length of my lens. I don’t need to be able to mix pigments for the palette I need, technology does that for me. But what I do need to do is to observe. I need to pay attention, not just be on the lookout for interesting subjects, but for the light that reveals them best.

Pentax K5IIs with kit zoom proccessed in Snapseed and Stackables on my iPad Air


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