Part four ‘The Language of light’ – Introduction

For this part of the course we are going to look at light; daylight, artificial and studio light.

To be a good photographer you must have some concept of how light works (behaves). 

Thankfully we already know a lot about light instinctively (even if we don’t realise it).  How it behaves is part of the world around us and we learn from a very early age about life with and without light i.e. light and dark. 

[At this point I would like to apologise to any blind photographers out there, and there are some, who will not have experienced light in the same way as I am about to reflect upon.] 

For example, we know from a very young age that when the sun is out it casts shadows and one of my earliest memories of this is chasing my own shadow trying desperately to stamp on it. Of course as soon as you lift your foot up the shadow moves away from you and you never ever get close enough to stamp on it.  It is then that you realise that if you hold your arm or body in a particular position, contort your body, leg and foot round a bit then you can stamp on the shadow of another part of your body – I know you are dying to try this out now eh? 

The other main experience where I learnt about light was as a child when we had to get the candles out in a power cut or when our generator went down.  We lived down an unmade road in the country (without mains water in the earlier days) so losing the electric was a ‘thing’ and in the storm of 1987 we were without pretty much any power for nearly a week and candles were a staple in our household, them and matches. Most people where we lived were prepared for this so had calor gas cookers and wood burners for heat.   That said when only one room was being heated the cold bucket of water that was the shower was not much fun!   I look back now at those days with whimsy.

Anyway, back on track…. candle light, a small light source which can cast harsh shadows on an object… Also, in the middle of a wood a lone candle could create quite a spooky atmosphere.  So I also learnt that light could create a feeling.

When I went to secondary school I had aspirations of being a lighting technician for the school’s amateur dramatic productions.  It was then that I realised how lighting could be used as a tool to direct the eye of the audience to a particular place on stage (and could ruin a performance if it wasn’t done right).

All that said, when I started photography I felt like I had to learn about light again but from a more technical perspective rather than an intuitive one.  Things like the ‘inverse square law’, reflective and refractive materials, angles of incidence… definitely more science than art, although get the lighting right and your image art can come to life.

There is a quote in the course notes that I will share with you…

“Amateurs worry about sharpness, pros worry about money, photographers worry about light.” [anon]

I think I sit somewhere between amateur and photographer at the moment but I get the point and I do find myself increasingly wanting to experiment more with light rather than my camera.

Prelim chatty bit over, now it’s time to get on with the course exercise – Project 1: Exposure.

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