Thinking about Light

I took this quick photo of Carla and Rosa, enjoying the sun by the patio door, last week. It was just a quick “Hey, that’s cute, let me grab my phone” kind of thing; I didn’t put any effort into composing the shot in any way. I just liked the way it looked.

There’s nothing wrong with Carla’s right eye; it just looks like that in the picture for some reason.

Looking at the result, with the shadows cast across their bodies by the upright parts of the sliding door, reminded me of a conversation I had with a photographer friend years ago, and a lesson he tried teaching me that I didn’t understand at the time.

His name was–still is, I’m guessing, though I’ve lost track of him over the years–Robert, and he was an artist who was skilled in a number of different mediums but who ended up working as a photographer. He was an artistic photographer, that is to say, and his main focus was on the human body. He worked to create images on film (or, later, digital, I suppose) that captured and celebrated the human form in a way not unlike the statue-carvers of Ancient Greece and Rome. Robert chose his models carefully and coached them into poses that made their bodies look astonishingly perfect. Apparently one of his models, upon seeing the result, commented along the lines of “You make us into gods.”

The lesson about light went roughly as follows: Robert emailed me a photograph of his, in which a lovely young model is standing in bright light that is streaming into a dark place…but she is also standing behind a ladder. Thus the rungs of the ladder cast strips of shadow onto her body, and they did so in such a way that the shadows weren’t so much cast onto her body as draped across it, like strips of cloth. He angled the camera in such a way that the shadows were not straight blocks of anti-light, but organic-looking shapes of darkness that followed the model’s curves, the way her body rose here and fell there. It wasn’t just that light was present, it was the way the light was shaped by its blocking of the ladder and by the careful position of what the light was falling on.

I found this interesting at the time, but I don’t think I appreciated it nearly as well as I’m starting to now, as I begin exploring photography in a much more intentional way. I haven’t been getting out when the light is considered “best” by pro photographers–sunrise, sunset, and overcast days–but being in forests can help, as the trees themselves make the light dance and fall in interesting ways.

It’s quite a transition, going from thinking in terms of capturing a scene to thinking in terms of capturing light.

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