2.11.2013

Available light and available seeing.

Spa at the Lake.

We've all heard the hoary quote, "When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail." And this is especially true in the field of commercial photography. We're always carting around lights of various kinds and we come to feel, over time, that every scene should be lit. That no photo is complete unless it's been kissed by the pop of a strobe or massaged by some continuous illumination.  But part of being a good photographer is being able to look at prevailing light and say no to extraneous light. 

The shot above was lit by a wall of windows. There was no direct sun coming into the windows, only the glow from the open sky, but when color corrected it was as beautiful as any light I would have concocted; probably much better.

Spa at the Lake detail.

My second example of unassisted available light is this pitcher of water with cucumbers, above. When I realized that I could circle around the pitcher and shoot it contre-jour the image just opened up to me in a fun way. I could have tried lighting this for hours and not come up with a better shot. And it's a shot that also reminds me that not all light has to be softened or modified to work well for my photographs. This was taken in direct sun with no modifiers.

While our inner sense of marketing sometimes jumps in and tells us we ought to light in order to impress the client or to somehow elevate what we do above what can be done without the trappings of the professional it is good to clear the filters of the mind, from time to time and just recognize how beautiful the prevailing light can sometimes be. And that it is part of our profession to recognize that beautiful light when we are gifted with it...

13 comments:

Gregg Mack said...

Good light is wherever you find it. I'm still working on being able to recognize it, when it presents itself. I really like the "inner glow" coming from the left side of the pitcher of water, and how it appears much darker on the right side.

Craig Yuill said...

Kirk, am I wrong to assume that you avoid using auto white balance when you know what the light source is and use either pre-set or custom white balance settings on your camera when shooting? I have been relying on auto white balance, and it often gets a better result than the presets. But there are times, such as outside in shadows where the presets often seem to produce better results.

I notice that you work hard to get colour matching between various artificial light sources. Am I also wrong in assuming you try to avoid using colour correction in post production as little as possible?

Bill Beebe said...

See north light, indirect light, Johannes Vermeer: http://www.essentialvermeer.com/

George Salt said...

Or Sir Henry Raeburn. I don't think it's available online but there's a wonderful programme where they show how he controlled natural light on the subject by opening and closing half-shutters on the windows of his Edinburgh studio. His portraits have a wonderful quality of lighting.

larry angier said...

Just got a call from a relative. "If I buy this flash, will I get prize-winning photos?" No, I said. Only you can create those. I sent her 24 example photos from a recent print with the detail of how each was created, most with existing light.

What I also used with the existing light on a few was "available lighting". I had my flashlights with me to do a little painting. Of course those flashlights were LED...

She was hot to trot to purchase the next device she thought would lead to photo nirvana. There isn't any such device. The best thing one can spend money on, I told her, is to spend on creating an opportunity to shoot or to put that money into training and education. Getting out there puts you within the area of finding that photo nirvana!

Kirk Tuck said...

I like presets. I love custom white balance. I hate post processing.

Kirk Tuck said...

You are only wrong about one thing. There is a photo nirvana device. It's called a Leica M4 with a 50mm Summicron.

Frank Grygier said...

The good light is in BBQ joints...NOT. Well almost not.

Frank Grygier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Tuck said...

Looks pretty good to me.

Wally said...

Exercise to learn how to see the direction of light. Take a picture without flash. Move the subject around till the light gives the best exposure. Rotate the subject till you get a result you want. A cell phone camera with flash turned off and auto ISO turned on will show much better technical images when light is strongest and show very noisy images when the light is on the side or in the back. This is a take off off if the subject is not interesting turn around.

thequietphotographer said...

Well, photography means "write with light". But seeing, knowing, managing natural available light is many times more difficult then buying a new device, which anyway requires a learning curve.
robert
PS: still and always learning...

Josh said...

This is a timely reminder as I'm entering my "strobist" phase of photography craft growth. This new found (and sometimes downright magical-feeling) ability to bring my own Light to the party is plumb changing the way that I think. Rather than wondering if there's enough light at all (or worrying about grain from high ISO's), or praying that I can somehow nail the focus at f/2.2, or practicing obsessive, sniper-inspired breathing techniques and bending myself into a human tripod because I'm also shooting at 1/50sec... I'm now thinking of my lights as a way to reclaim choices about DOF and ISO, as a way to control the environment around my subject in powerful ways, and, not least, the solution to shooting the portrait I want, where I want, even if me or my subject aren't available precisely at sunrise/sunset. Or if I just needed to shoot without an assistant to hold the dang reflector.

But in this new creative and logistical freedom (and, yes, learning curve - sheesh, at least I'm getting really fast at using my camera in manual mode), I'd hate to lose my hard-fought skill at "available seeing" - the way to scan a scene for the sources and qualities of light, look for natural reflectors, become a human tripod/sniper, pose my subject according to the light rather than the other way around... I don't always get the shot I want this way, but even the shots I lose to blur and camera shake are great exercise. :)