Learning “to see the light” may be a tired photographic cliche but that doesn’t mean that it’s not true and important part of a photographer’s development.
Light has four major qualities: quality, quantity, color and direction. No matter what exposure mode you select with your camaer, seeing how light in a scene affects its overall impact is the key to mastering the art of proper exposure. Yes, its just as much art as it is science because the final exposure controls the image’s mood.
Learning to see the light isn’t all that difficult but takes practice not only by making new photographs but also taking the time to analyze those images after you’ve created them. The above photograph of my wife, Mary, has dark, dark shadows and blasted out highlights; it’s an exposure nightmare with lots of contrast, yet I think it works because it replicates the mood of the real-world situation. Mary and I were walking on the Island of Kauai and saw this natural pool and I asked her if she would climb out to the rock and let me make a photograph of her.
Part of learning to seeing the light isn’t just looking at what you think the subject of your photograph might be but instead looking at the shadows and highlights, keeping in mind that the difference between the two determines the image’s overall contrast. Sometimes you’ll hear the term “dynamic range” in relation to the range of contrast in a scene. Take the above example, photographed on the beach at Acapulco. It’s the opposite of the darkly quite mood of the first image and is bursting with light and life. It was made using a Leica D-Lux 2 with an exposure of 1/1000 sec at f/8 and ISO 400.
If understanding how to see the light is the first part of making consistent and correct exposures, the other part is a working knowledge of the technology inherent in the process. And that involves practice. Tip: Make a new photo every day and try to learn something new from the experience.
Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s sadly out-of-print but used copies are available from your friendly neighborhood book or camera store, eBay or Amazon.