Photography has become so ingrained in our everyday lives. We take in more visual stories in 2 minutes, than were ever taken in the first 200 years photography was invented! Can you believe that? Yet, still, many of us take this incredible invention for granted – we’ll give technology credit for that. The advancements in this art form have made it so easy to create visual stories on the fly, we forget the fundamental reason photography why we love photography in the first place.
It’s Always About The Light!
Cameras have one job to do and always have. That is to capture light. As technology gets better and better, it’s simply making it easy to capture more details in less light. As with all paradoxes in life, the subject of light can be incredibly dynamic and intricate yet also very simple and natural to understand. I’m a very simple and natural kind of gal, so let’s go that direction.
Have you ever tried to take a quick photo only to retake the shot many times because it didn’t turn out in the camera as you thought? Quite often when we take snapshots, we take for granted the power of our cameras, and expect it to capture an image exactly like our eyes see it. But your camera is actually just averaging all the light it can see, while your eyes (and brain) can see so much more than the average of all things. Our eyes are much, much, MUCH more intelligent than the camera and can automatically measure, capture, and analyze the light we see all at once. Our eyes and brains expose for what we are focused on, and our focus changes instantly all the time.
Whereas a camera sees only a mix of all the light. It only knows what to focus and expose for when we control it and tell it where to look. So if we want to create an interesting image we must first be able to identify the light in the scene and understand what it’s doing. Essentially, we as the storyteller, have to decide what makes the light in the scene interesting to us. How does the light tell the story?
When you pick up the camera next, ask yourself, “What light catches my eyes?”
Asking this question allows a basic human instinct to bring us into a higher level of self-awareness of the moment through pure curiosity. Light is constantly moving and when it bounces off of things in our scene, it reflects information back at us. When we can be aware of what catches our attention, we can start to discover our true story.
There are a few key features we can identify as soon as we set our eyes on the scene that will help, and they all relate to the light. Knowing these light features will create a broader sense of awareness and thus a better idea of how to create a more interesting visual story. They are so easy, you’ll realize their power as soon as you read the words.
The Key Features of Light
Let’s examine most fundamental, key features of light that naturally catch our attention and help us create great visual stories. Here are is what we should focus on when we are identifying the light in our scene:
When we are analyzing light, we cannot just point to it and know it’s there. To tell an interesting story, we have to pay attention to key features of the light showing un in that moment. Identifying the source of light is the first step. Without identifying the source of light, we cannot begin to really “see” or discover the best story. When we are outside, the obvious source of light is natural sunlight. Inside, the source of light can be sunlight or many different other kinds of light too.
Most scenes actually have many different sources of light. Or what you will learn is that one source of light is usually reflecting from my different directions. This is what makes light is dynamic and every single story an opportunity to be interesting. As you are entering a scene and you feel a story coming together, pay attention to the light source.
Is it bright sunlight?
Is it window light?
Is it overhead fluorescent light?
As you become aware of the light source, you’ll immediately be able to identify what makes it unique at the moment. You will all at once embrace its power, it’s direction, it’s distance, and the absence of it in your scene. Next, ask yourself these simple questions,
Where is the light coming from?
How is it hitting my focal point?
What colors are catching the light?
Is the light moving?
These questions could arise in many different forms. I am just suggesting that awareness is the key. Really diving into what strikes your curiosity, and being able to describe the light is your roadmap to real creative visual stories.
Natural Sunlight Is Always Moving
From dusk till dawn light moves all around us. It’s constantly changing shape, color, and everything around it. At first light, a cool tone of colors stretches faint shadows across the Earth as the sunlight begins to reach into the crevices of life on the surface. As the sun rises into the day, those shadows shorten. They become more distinct as if we could trace them on the surface. This is when the light becomes stronger as it shines directly down from above. Whatever objects are between it and the surface it hits, will cast perfect reflecting shadows on to that surface.
If there are clouds in the sky, between the sun and the surface it hits, the light becomes more dispersed and soft. This is when we can’t quite point to the light. It’s not specifically, anywhere. It’s everywhere yet nowhere in particular. It’s wrapping around all the objects it hits. Then, as the sun retreats into the evening, the glow of that day’s light is still cascading across the Earth, the stretch of shadows appear on the opposite side, longer and with a warmer golden glow. At this point, the shadows are very distinct and often dramatic, giving us an opportune time to chase the light as it leaves for the day. Noticing these dark and light areas of our scene at any given time of day lets us hone in on the dynamic stories or photo-ops always available to us anytime we want.
You Naturally Know What Interests You
Everyone experiences life differently. That’s the beauty of this! As you begin to interpret the light with these features in your awareness, many different possibilities of perspective arise. By asking what light catches your eyes, you are asking yourself what interests you. You are expanding your self-awareness and expanding your abilities to capture that light the way you truly intended too. The way this exact moment in time can only be captured, in your unique view. As your scene changes, as your experience continues, different aspects of the light will change and catch your attention. The light will show you what you are curious about. When we allow ourselves to naturally notice the light with full body awareness, we can be creating much more interesting stories simply by letting curiosity take the lead and trusting our instincts.
When we can begin to recognize these fundamental aspects of light, we can do it more instantly in the moment, we can see it change and we can learn to anticipate how it will react to our scene. This is why many photographers say that they are always about chasing the light. Simply by noticing the light and working with how it personally interested us, how we choose to connect to it, that’s how we can create more interesting visual stories.
Remember, we are all natural storytellers. Take time to step into the moment before you snap the shot. Experience being present. Notice the light. Become connected with your experience with your entire body and watch your story unfold like magic!