Up at the crack of noon

Usually. I still need an alarm clock to blast me out of bed in the morning. Unless I can’t sleep which usually happens in the middle of the night when my brain is racing – like when I wrote the first draft of this post actually!

Except for the other morning. I was sleeping peacefully when an intense orange light illuminated the bedroom waking me. I mean it was electric orange with pink and purple tossed in for added effect and was such an intrusive light that it actually woke me.

When I opened my eyes the bedroom was bathed in the light streaming in from the windows. The sky was such and intense palate of pastels – with the intense orange dominating – created by the long-absent rising sun. After weeks of endless clouds, the sun was breaking out and taking full advantage of the situation. There were still clouds mind you, but the sun was the dominant player for this show.

Knowing the fleeting nature of light, especially in the “golden hour” just after sunrise and just before sunset, I quickly tossed on just enough clothes to stay warm (despite the warm colors of the sky it remains the middle January) grabbed my trusty Nikon and flew outside to grab the precious few minutes of this show. Trying to get my just-opened eyes to focus I dialed in my settings as I headed down the stairs and out the door.

My resources for composition were limited to what I could find within a few meters of my door as there were literally just a few minutes of this light available before the sun rose a bit more washing out the celestial effect. But there’s always a photographic composition available, you just have to look for it.

When I looked at the capture time for the photos, from the first image to the last, the entire show lasted but four minutes. Had I taken time to think about whether to go outside or not, what to wear (I looked pretty much like I was homeless) or any other second-guessing, time wasting consideration, I would have missed the moment.

Light is fleeing and time to take an image is when you see that it’s there. Wait and that image is gone forever.

Look where others aren’t

The fun part of creating art is seeing what no one else sees and sharing your unique perspective. Much like the Wall Street adage of “when folks are buying, see who’s selling” – when others are looking up, you should be looking down.

The Pantheon in Rome is one of my favorite buildings ever. Beyond the sheer concrete engineering feat that was accomplished nearly 2000 years ago, it’s simply a captivating building. As one walks into the vast rotunda (as tall as it is wide), one can’t help but gaze skyward at the oculus, an opening in the center of the dome. Rain and snow come in through this 30-foot diameter hole in the roof.

And sunlight.

Only light from the entryway and the oculus illuminate this temple. Given its vast interior and the role the oculus plays, one’s eye is naturally drawn upward toward the opening and the sunlight streaming in through it

Once, as I followed the light from the opening to the floor, I wondered where it went afterwards. The answer came in the image here. The light bounces off of the floor and illuminates the wall opposite creating a whole new experience in this wonderful building.

Are you looking where others are and if so, why?

 

Half of photography is luck, the other half is looking

Which half do you want to rely on?

Photography is naturally about seeing. Looking for the right moment – the right angle, the right light, composition, everything – is critical so when that moment presents itself, you’re ready.

You’re present in that moment.

One doesn’t need to walk about all day long with camera pressed to face, finger on the shutter release, but one does need to be looking at all times. Have his/her eyes truly open to notice that certain something that makes a moment an image.

Looking doesn’t require any special skills or special training. It’s just about being aware of where you are and what’s around you. Sorting through the clutter to find the essence. Thinking in terms of borders – what’s included in an image and what’s not. Being this aware takes some conscious practice, but it’s doable without being an intrusion on one’s life. Rather, it becomes the way one normally sees the world. Being in the moment at all times.

Being in the moment is about consciously using one’s senses – all of them, to absorb that point in time. A five-senses test so to speak: How does where you are right this minute look, sound smell, taste and feel – and how can that be captured in an image?

Being aware ensures that one is ready when life presents “the decisive moment” as Cartier-Bresson taught us. The difference between capturing golden light or grey. A telling expression or just another face. Being ready to
capture exactly the image that needed to be caught.

Then the other half – luck – takes its turn by helping you be in the right place at the right time. Or is it luck?

Shadows and Light

Life (and, by extension, photography) is full of shadows and light. The balance between them determines the mood, the mindset, the feeling.

A life full of light is lovely but it misses some of the contrasts that shadows bring with them; some of the textures, variances, details.

Conversely, a life full of shadows misses the highlights, the features that light offers; the bright spots, the warmth, the glow.

Only through a delicate balance between shadow and light is life seen to its fullest with its highlights and details; it’s textures and contrasts; its highs and its lows.

You need light to illuminate the shadows; you need shadows to appreciate the light.

Writing with Light

Photography, from Greek: Photo
= light, graphy = writing. (Sounds
like a decode in a Dan Brown novel…)

“Writing with light” sounds far more interesting than “taking
a picture”, doesn’t it? Sounds more personal, more thoughtful, more deliberate.
Which it is.

Photography is all about knowing what light you have, where
it is and what its role is in your image. At a minimum, the base, it’s simple:
no light, no image. With a broader perspective, being aware of the light is
what makes an outstanding image outstanding.

At all times, you must sense where the light is and ensure
it is working best for the image you want to create. Like searching for the
right word or phrase to communicate a thought, an idea or a feeling when you
have pen in hand.

Seeing the light is a learned behavior. You must consciously
look for the light, be aware of the light, and see how it is interacting with
the subject; how it completes the composition you’ve made and use it to its
fullest. Obviously, something initially caught your eye suggesting there was an
image to be made. Usually it’s the composition that grabs you, but it ultimately
comes down to the light on that subject that makes the image. Look how the
light affects the subject and the areas around the subject. How it enhances or
detracts from the composition. The key to writing with light is knowing how
best to leverage the light available in your composition.

Frequently, with available light photography, leveraging the
light requires an immediate decision. When you see the right light on a
subject, the time to ‘write’ is at that moment – not in a few minutes, not when
you come back later or on another day, but at that precise moment. To miss that
chance to write with light is the same as not writing your feelings and thoughts
in your journal immediately. Waiting until the next day or week to put your
thoughts down dilutes the emotion and sharpness of the experience – if you
haven’t already forgotten the entire thing. Waiting to write with light until later
means the light will not be the same hence the image that you saw will also not
be the same as it was when the moment was right.

Seeing and feeling the light when you compose an image is
what separates writing with light from taking a picture.

Carpe luminis!

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