Seeing the Light, Another Take

“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.”—Joe Farace

As I mentioned in my last post on this subject, light has four major qualities: quality, quantity, color and direction. No matter what exposure mode you select with your DSLR or mirrorless camera, 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, made on the island of Kauai several years ago 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 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, made of the Brighton City Hall during the holidays.

I made the photograph using my old (now gone) Canon EOS 1D Mark II N and it’s actually a combination of two exposures: The first covering everything from right of the large tree on the left side)was eight seconds @ f/13 at an ISO of 200. The second was made at 2.5 seconds because the tree and city hall sign were too overexposed.

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.

For more exposure tips, click on the three links listed below this post. Barry Staver and I are co-authors of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print with new copies available from Amazon for $19.95 (non-Prime) or used copies for giveaway prices, $4 as I write this. You won’t find a better deal for a Christmas gift for your favorite photographer, or yourself.

Author: Joe Farace

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