The Practicing Photographer: Light as a subject

Published by | Friday, May 24th, 2013

To state the obvious, you can’t photograph a subject without light. Part of growing as a photographer involves learning to recognize “good” light—for example, light that has a pleasing color or angle, or that accentuates or softens textures in ways that complement your subject.

Learning to look for the right light is important—but it’s also fun to look at light as a potential photographic subject in itself. That’s the message of this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, wherein Ben Long urges us to “go out and look for light as the subject of an image.”

Ben shows several examples in this installment. Here’s another, this one from my collection of Polaroids.

“19,” ©Jim Heid

“19,” ©Jim Heid

When I shot this, what caught my attention wasn’t the motel staircase; it was the beam of sunlight—its width fits perfectly within the span of those stairs and its angle complements the other geometry in the scene.

Ben also discusses the idea of light as a subject in his Foundations of Photography: Composition course. In Chapter 8, photographer Connie Imboden leads a workshop aimed at teaching students exactly this concept.

The importance of practice

Ben brings up another important point in this week’s installment when he reminds us, “This is an exercise. You don’t have to come back with great pictures.” That’s something that a lot of photographers sometimes forget. Taking photos isn’t always about getting great shots—just as picking up an instrument isn’t always about delivering a recital performance. Musicians practice scales to build dexterity and strength, and they “noodle” or play experimentally, with the goal of exploring their art and their tool.

So with all this in mind, check out this installment of Ben’s series and, if you like, Chapter 8 in Foundations of Photography: Composition. Then pick up your camera, look for some interesting light and shadows, and start noodling.


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