Written for the November 2016 newletter of PixelRights.com

by simonrleach

and archived to the Pixel Rights Blog at https://blog.pixelrights.com/albums

I Love Light

In my photography I have a passion for light. It is my life: the reflection of light from a surface the creation, of form and texture, the way I see things, capture them and show them to my viewers. In using light I can control and manipulate my communication with my viewer.

As a species and through science we understand light as a fundamental of survival: without light there is no life, there is no us. As a photographer my relationship and knowledge of light is of a much more romantic nature: its beauty, its colours, its emotions. Whilst I may focus on the technical craft of ‘lighting’ a subject, I never forget that there is far more to effective light than illuminating a subject. A street photograph of the old man watching the world go by can be appealing, but with the right angle of light it becomes arresting. A landscape maybe dramatic, but a shaft of light can place us in the place, in that moment.

In these examples it may be argued that the photographer has little control of light, that they are merely capturing a moment as it appears to them. But I believe that many of the best photographs are so because the photographer observed and perhaps even revisited an image time and again to control the atmosphere and light, in some cases even recreating a moment.

In my own work it is all about control. Over time it has become instinctive, but the basic principle is that the angle light hits a surface is the same as the resultant angle it reflects at. The best way to play with this and learn it is with a piece of metallic card (available from most good art shops). Get a lamp, preferably a desk type, shine it at the card and then using your eye (instead of the camera) observe how the light reflects and flares across the surface as the relationship between the source, the subject (the card) and the camera (your eye) change. Next, cut the sheet of card so you have some smaller pieces you can attach to a larger base, preferably sticking several together to create a number of levels. Alter the angle of the card and its relationship with you and your light source and see how the structure is enhanced and diminished by the shadows getting longer/deeper or shorter and lighter. If you gain the right level of shadow depth and reflection but feel the shadow is too defined and distracting that is the time to diffuse your light source, either with a scrim (semi-transparent material) or by the addition of a soft-box.

This is a great way to start using studio lighting: get a single light source and observe the different ways in which its location and distance from your subject affect what you see. You will learn far more than by imitating a specific lighting set up. Now it is just practise….

Have fun!

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