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On Light

If there’s one thing serious photographers are obsessed with it’s light. Of course, if there is no light you can’t take a photograph, so there you go. But it’s not as simple as that: There is good light and bad light, but why? What is it that makes light good or bad?

We’ve all been there, it’s Friday, we have the whole weekend ahead of us and after having breakfast we grab our gear and make for a familiar location hoping to shoot some keepers. We pay some attention to composition, turn all the right dials, bracket, focus stack and whatnot yet somehow we return with so-so pictures more often than not. What went wrong?

Maybe an example will help, here’s a picture I took in the Lake District (Ashness Bridge, Keswick). It was early in the morning and it was the start of 2018’s drought so there’s next to no water to be seen. Still, this could have been an interesting picture nevertheless, if only the light had been different.

As you can see, I was able to save the image to some degree by editing it carefully, but it’s still far from being a keeper. I can’t make up for the lack of light without making it look weird and unnatural. It’s a similar situation as with sharpness: If you miss focus on your subject, you can’t fix that in post later. It’s the same with light.

2 thoughts on On Light

  1. An interesting point that you make about light Thorsten. For me ‘good’ light isn’t necessarily the gorgeous light that you get during golden hour. Some subjects are better suited to a moodier atmosphere that requires heavy, overcast skies. I have recently decided that there is no such thing as bad light, only the wrong subject! Love the shot of the mushrooms by the way.

  2. That would be the exceptions I mentioned. Dramatic skies are far and few between though, most of the time “overcast” means grey, uniform skies with no detail whatsoever and you’ll have no other choice than to find a subject that doesn’t include the sky. Most people take to the woods then, but woodland has its own challenges and many, many photographers (Thomas Heaton included) struggle in these places. And even if you can come up with something interesting, the crucial factor will still be light. That mushroom shot wouldn’t have worked in overcast weather.

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