Embracing Light in Your Photographs

Critiquing art can be very subjective. Personal opinions as to what constitutes “good” art can be as varied as our fingerprints. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” gives us the freedom to experience art from a personal perspective: what moves you, why you like it, what don’t you like, and so on.

When creating art, or in this case photography, usually the common goal is to create something that you (and hopefully others) would enjoy looking at. Following some of the basic principles of photography will give you a foundation to create your own unique style of photographs. Sometimes our best photos can come from a spontaneous moment and other times they are a well thought out process. Either way, the success of the photo incorporates a combination of principles that make it successful.

Principles of Composition:
Elements of Composition:

While all these Principles and Elements of Composition play an important part of photography, I’m partial to the following quote by George Eastman, “Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”

Light is the key element in your photograph, like the conductor in the symphony. How you address light helps you translate your objective. Is there a particular mood you would like to convey? Perhaps a shot on a foggy day or after a rain storm will add more drama. Bright light evokes a different response than a more soft, diffused light. Black and white photos can feel more timeless or effective by tempering the midday sun. Changes in weather capture moods and drama, as do overcast days, which create a perfect setting to photograph flowers and foliage. Shooting at dawn creates photos with a softer light versus late afternoon/dusk; when the light is warmer, more dramatic. Either time of day, the angles of light are lower and thus impact the scene with more patterns, shadows and drama. Front lighting, back lighting and side lighting are all important aspects of your light source on the subject and each approach creates a different effect: glow, transparency or highlights with shadows.

The Denver Art Museum’s current exhibit, “The Truth of Nature,” highlights more than 120 paintings by Claude Monet. Monet dedicated much of his life trying to capture the essence of light in his paintings. Often he experimented by painting the same subject matter in different seasons or at different times of the day, for example his Haystack, Poplar and Water Lillies series. Understanding and experiencing the impact, importance and mood of light in these paintings would greatly help any photographer gain a fresh perspective.

Creating our own photographs can sometimes seem intimidating or overwhelming as to where to start. On the heels of the Monet exhibit, I thought it would be fun to encourage you to set an intention in your photo project with repetition of a subject with the study of light. Perhaps on your walk, you have noticed an intriguing architectural feature, maybe a pretty view or a garden gate. Maybe driving around town, you have noticed something that has caught your eye. Maybe a simple element in your own backyard…whatever it may be, your decisions need to be simple and practical so you can execute your project with success.

Decide your subject.
Decide on what time or times of the day you will repeat your photo. One in the morning and one in the evening of the same day?
You might pick the same time of day on several different days.
If you are intrigued, you could practice this throughout the various seasons.
Play around with the emotions you are trying to capture and adjust accordingly with your light source.
Have fun! Interesting light, subject matter and repetition generally can create a sense of wonderment and interest for the viewer.

No doubt with this project, you will learn about many other principles and elements of composition. But addressing the key foundation of light in photography, and the twist of repetition in the subject matter, you will have created a portfolio of works I suspect you will be quite pleased with and perhaps would hang on your wall or better yet, consider entering in a photography show.