In every job people need to know what they are working with. People should know which tools they are going to use on a daily basis, understand how they work and be able to see what differences are made to the final job by changing the way they are used. Some tools can be dispensable in certain situations and some can never be; a wood carver can use a different carving knife for oak than for pine, but will always need wood.
Photography, in its basic principles, is really simple. Let’s look at the word ‘Photography’. It comes from Greek (photos and graphos), and roughly it means ‘writing with light’. So….yeah. After all the books you have read about photography and it’s just as simple as that. Or is it? Because of the nature of light, you have to deal with lots of factors when working with it, and that can be extremely difficult. Light has intensity, colour, direction, texture, temperature, among others, and it reflects, disperses and refracts. Light is also unpredictable, it’ll surprise you anytime. You really want to work with light because it can be brilliant, but it’s hard to guess how to manage it so you can get the best from it. There are trillions of ways you can light up your subject. So there are trillions of ways you can spoil an image.
The good side of photography, contrary to other professions, is that you can experiment. You’re not going to kill anyone if you try different light setups and doing this doesn’t mean you are a bad photographer. The more you try different light situations the better you’ll know how light works and as such you will get better results. Great photographers are defined by their ability to read light in any condition at any time in any place. They’ll get to the shoot location and will know where to position the subject, the camera, if any extra light should be used and all of this in less than a minute. A great photographer should make the best of everything at their disposal to get the most impressive results from the whole process. The most complicated part is being able to read the light so you can write with it in the way you want and to get to this point requires a bit of talent and a lot of hard work. Oh, and luck of course.
Light is so amazing that it can transform the most horrendous subject into an interesting image. However, the opposite is also likely to happen. You can spoil a beautiful subject like Michelle Pfeiffer by using an improper or unflattering light composition. She will end up looking like a mime with a hangover. Bad.
Obviously you might think that I’m giving too much importance to light. I mean, if your subject is really interesting it’ll probably look great with any type of light, even bad light. Sometimes you’ll capture such an amazing moment with your camera that it won’t matter what light has been used. A good photo shouldn’t be judged only by the light, and of course, a photo with bad light can still be a good photo. Light is not everything, but it’s a great tool, and understanding how it works will help you with your photography a lot. No one says it’s an easy task, but light shouldn’t be your enemy either. So you’d better start dealing with it.