Making Light Your Subject – part two

“The moment you take the leap of understanding to realize you are not photographing a subject but are photographing light is when you have control over the medium.”  Daryl Benson

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about ‘Making Light Your Subject’. Light is obviously a vast subject for us and I wanted to add some more ideas to inspire you, and to encourage you to keep up your photography over the holidays. The first, of pre-visualisation, is not so much related to light but is an essential practise that you should all be getting into, as it will help you maximise the creative opportunities that light brings.


Pre-visualise the final photo

One of my favourite photographers, Ray Metzker, died this past October. Metzker’s work is not abstract or hard to digest.  His photographs look simple and beautiful, but that does not reflect the vision and skill it took accomplish such loveliness. Metzker was a master at pre-visualizing the final image.


©  Ray Metzker

The above image is a great example of what can be accomplished with some good pre-viz (as I will now call it).  Picture yourself standing where Metzker was when he created his image. Would the shadows be so dark and textureless (no detail)? Would the whites be so bright? That contrast is not natural.  The contrast was something that Metzer wanted to reproduce because that is how he wanted the final image to look like and so he created that in the darkroom. If you can understand this concept of pre-viz then you are on the way to better photography. By understanding how Metzkerinterpreted the light and how he wanted it to be represented in his photographs, you are shown how a master “sees”.

Wait for the perfect light

Patience is an essential skill in photography. I am an advocate of the shoot less, shoot slowly school of photography. Waiting for all of the elements to be in place, really feeling and seeing your composition before you press the shutter requires commitment and focus. Work hard on developing it. I think landscape photographer Charlie Waite personifies this concept. I love his work. In particular I love how he will find an interesting landscape and will wait for the perfect light to appear, before taking the photo. Sometimes even the landscape isn’t that interesting, but the light is special and that is what makes the photo mesmerising.

I often think of that rare fulfilling joy, when I am in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events. Where the light, the colour, the shapes and the balance all interlock so beautifully that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it.  Charlie Waite


© Charlie Waite

Maybe you find a landscape or scene you want to photograph but the light isn’t right that day, or even the next. Persevere – go in the morning, go in the evening, wait until the rich colour of autumnal light arrives – whatever it takes. I like to keep a list (mostly in my head, I am not that organised) of places I am waiting to photograph. And there are places I photograph again and again throughout the year. Creating an epic photo is worth the wait (by the way Ansel Adams thought that “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” I would even say 2 or 3 and you are doing incredibly well). Think quality not quantity.

Become intimate with your light

I recently came across this interview with Magnum photographer Trent Parke. I intensely encourage you all to look at this as it’s probably the most inspiring interview about photography I have seen in years. He talks about how his work is focused on his home city of Adelaide, how he has worked over years and years to become familiar and intimate with the light in the city. He knows which part of the city to shoot at which time of day because of this knowledge he has created of the city – and he has used the city and its hard light as inspiration for his incredible work. I love how he is using what is on his doorstep to create this kind of amazing work.

Trente Parke

© Trent Parke

I hope you all have a great holiday season. I am looking forward to a good break with my family, and being in London whilst it quietens down. I’ll be going on many walks with my son, who has become a pretty awesome little photographer recently, through the empty streets and looking for something special. Apart from the fact that he’s a little trigger-happy, my son is great at getting into that zone of really looking – because in fact all children can see the world for what it is. As Picasso said ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’

Happy holidays,