I can remember the moment I saw light. I saw how it touched the sides of buildings, created shadows on bodies and faces. The second I saw light it was all I could see. It was like I had been blind and a crucial segment of my vision was restored. It was in this moment I knew I could actually be a photographer.
Before this momentous occasion I’d been photographing for several years. Granted, it had been when I was still a hobbyist, creating images for fun with the hopes of making it something more. Yet it was still further along in my photographic adventures than I would like to admit, which makes me wonder how many professional photographers out there are still “blind” and haven’t really had the chance to get to know light.
You see, when you can see light you start to learn it., and in the process of learning it you get to know and understand it. You understand what it does when diffused, reflected, or re-routed. You can tame it, color it, block it and intensify it. You realize that the only difference between “natural light” and “strobes” is that one of them requires electricity. You can tackle anything, anywhere, with any light.
If you can’t see light or you don’t know how to use light you can still make gorgeous photographs, but you’re limited. You may end up compensating by pushing the “fill light” slider to the far right to balance out your exposure when you back-lit your subject. You may call yourself a “natural light” portrait photographer and keep your clients in the confines of “that shady spot on the side of the building”, or only go out on cloudy days. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think natural, God-given sunlight is absolutely gorgeous and is beautiful when tamed within the realms of a camera and lens. When I shoot food I prefer to use diffused sunlight to back-light my images—it’s cheap, easy and the results are fabulous. But I don’t use it as a crutch, I use it because I like it.
Here’s the thing—once you can see light, you can manipulate light. If you understand where light is falling, where it’s wrapping around your subject, how it’s reflecting or how strong it is, then you can work with any light. It doesn’t whether it’s sunlight, strobes and flashes, or maybe you’re short on electrical outlets and you feel like lighting a scene with your car’s headlights. Light is light, and photography needs light to create an image. So … doesn’t it make sense that we all get to know it the best we can?