A photograph is nothing without light. It is light that paints a landscape, creating the scene we hope to capture with the click of the shutter. And this is just the beginning. Light can do so much more.
Consider the intangible qualities of a photograph, those qualities which cannot be fully captured within the quantifiable aspects of an image. Consider mood, for example. What gives a photograph a joyous, somber, brooding, angry, celebratory or tense quality? In many instances, it is light which imbues a scene with its mood.
In the above image, the warm, golden light of sunset paints the horizon, storm clouds and stone to convey a wonderfully diverse – almost contradictory – collection of moods. On one hand, a dramatic, even subtly angry mood is present. But the gentle curve of the landscape softens the mood a bit, bringing out a feeling that is almost celebratory. This contrast gives the image a compelling quality that would not be present, if not for the quality of the light painting this landscape.
By comparison, this image carries a more subtle and inviting mood. A late-day glow catches just the tops of shrub and stone in the foreground, the ridges in the middle ground and the buttes in the distance. The remainder of the scene is subtly illuminated by a cooler, bluer twilight. Combined the scene has both a calm (cool, blue) and inviting (warm, red) quality that is slightly soothing.
Light is your most valuable, most important tool as a photographer. Whether you prefer working with the ambient, natural light of a scene or using strobes and other artificial light sources, understanding how light can be used to build an image and create a mood will allow you to take more dynamic, more compelling photographs.
So, get out there and shoot!
Bill Ferris | September 2013