Light is essential to human existence, so it is to photography. The word “photography” is originated from Greek, meaning “drawing with light”. Light is the single most important component in a photograph. Without light, the camera records nothing.
While the light is essential for photography, quality light is essential for quality photography. Landscape and nature photographers go out in the dark and return in the dark just to seek the golden light of sunrise and sunset for its brilliant color. But quality light is not just limited to sunrise and sunset, soft light of blue hours pre-dawn and post dusk is my most favorite light for landscape, overcast light filtered through cloudy sky is perfect for flower photos, even the harsh light in the middle of day can be quality light if the shadow is the main interest. There is no best light, just the best light to satisfy the artistic vision of a photographer.
I traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last spring to seek the soft light it is famous for. In the field of Cades Cove, a dead tree in the middle of field caught my attention. It was an ordinary dead tree that I would have it cut down if it were in my backyard. But I envisioned what it might look like in the golden light of Smoky.
I came by three days in a row to wait for the quality light I had in mind. The first morning was too foggy that I couldn’t even see the tree from the road. The second morning was opposite, no fog at all. The third morning, the valley was filled with light fog. The soft light through the fog turned dead tree into lively golden branches. What an extraordinary transformation!
A few months later, I was at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park. It is a popular beach with great scenery. However, it is also well known for its often gloomy sky at sunset. Without quality light, it was just a tourist snap shot.
I came back the second evening. The light was much better. Most photographers would photograph the sea stacks from the side because the golden light would lit up the rocks. But I wanted to do something different. I saw an opportunity because there was some light fog hanging over the beach to diffuse the light. I decided to stand behind rocks to shoot straight into the sun. I carefully positioned my camera at a position that the sun was barely peeking out behind the rock to create sun burst effect. Too much sun would cause to too much contrast for camera sensor to handle. At the same time, I framed my shot so that my composition took advantage of the shadow on the sand as leading lines to lead viewer’s attention into the main object.
Light is the life. A photograph can’t live without light.