Light On!

August 25, 2013

As a young photographer I've read over and over again that photographing is like "painting with light", that "you have to learn to see the light", that "light makes all the difference", and so on. At the New York Institute Of Photography I have learned the basic qualities of light: size, color, location and direction, and how they affect lightness and brightness and other image attributes. I have learned about the interesting interplay between light and shadow and how much both contribute to depth and texture in a photograph. 

I have learned how to light a portrait, what "Rembrandt Lighting" is, and how to set up a product shot, and much more. I found that "value" is one of the basic elements of art, and that as a photographer, I have to use the light to control value and value contrasts, and that these are enormously important in creating visual impact. Painters summarize this by saying that "Color gets the credit, but value does the work!", which has led me since I have heard it the first time.

Still, after more than a decade of dealing with it, light still remains somewhat mysterious. I'm far from having a hundred percent control over it, and  from understanding everything it does to a photographic scene and how much impact it might have.

A nice lesson was given to me and Katja this afternoon at Lake Needwood in Rockville, MD, when we encountered the following scene:

A nice spot with a beautiful scenic view, but something was wrong! I asked my wife to wait a few minutes until the sun would come back. We did, and that didn't just change things a LITTLE BIT, it made a HUGE difference. See the following shots, taken a few seconds apart from each other:

Not only were the dark areas now lit much better than before, the colors were brighter and more saturated as well. The tonal balance between landscape and sky was much better also. All in all, the difference was big and was very much worth the little wait, and the light has changed the picture from "useless" to "publishable":

The latter required some processing in Lightroom, though. Nothing serious, nothing unethical, of course ;-) But since I used the same exposure in all shots, the last shot was about 2/3 stops too bright. Although the OM-D had enough headroom too keep the highlights, everything was a bit too light and the colors were washed out. Easily fixable stuff.

The first shot, however, couldn't have been rescued at all.