30 Seconds to Good Light

Some photographers think that successful photography is about equipment.If only I had aWhatsitflex D200, then I’d be able to take great images. Or, they imagine that it’s exotic locations that are the key. Naturally, while good equipment and interesting locations are important it’s light that plays the most significant role in allowing the creation of strong photographs.

On my recent workshops in Iceland (July, 2004), I would often drive right past potentially interesting subjects, simply because the light wasn’t happening. People would say,why don’t we stop for a shot, and my reply would be —because the light sucks. Other times I would stop to take a photograph and people would say —what do you see? My answer would be —the light is great, so let’s look around for worthwhile subjects.

Below is a frame which we stopped to shoot one afternoon. The scene was pretty, almost bucolic, but the light was flat and uninteresting. The clouds though were broken and fast-moving, and I expected that it wouldn’t be long before some interesting light would illuminate the church.

First Shot


32 Seconds Later

The wait turned out to be just 32 seconds. I took the frame that you see above and then waited.Here comes the light. Just 32 seconds later (according to the EXIF data) I took the next frame which you can see by passing your mouse over the first image. Whether you care for the composition or not, clearly the second image with the light illuminating the church and the second line of islands adds dimension, interest and texture to the frame.

Blue Ducks — Iceland. July, 2004

Contax 645 with Kodak DCS Proback 645C and 210mm f/4 Sonnar lens

Of course, sometimes it’s theabsenceof light (at least direct light) that can make for a powerful photograph.Blue Ducksabove was taken early on a misty morning, and the flat monochromatic light tells its own story. Imagine this same photograph taken on a sunny afternoon. Ducks swimming. No shot!

It’s all about light.