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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
If you've watched my composition course or previous editions of the Practicing Photographer, you know that I spend a lot of time teaching and working at the Oklahoma Arts Institute. A fantastic arts work shop held in Southwestern Oklahoma. One of the reasons it's so fantastic is that I often find myself sitting in a chair Next to guys like these. I've got three great photographers here who have all taught here. Richard Klein, Troy Word, Konrad Eek. You've probably seen them on Lynda before. And we're here today because our producer gave us a little assignment.
And you're going to watch us turn in our work. I don't know, what do you, how do you guys feel about this? >> It was a little intimidating. >> It was. Yeah, I felt it also. >> And then I always look at it, it's good to have a gig. >> There is that. One of the things that's great about coming to a workshop like this is you get this great cross-pollination of, of, experience and perspectives. And particularly for a photo workshop where the same group of photographers can go into the same area and pull out very different images, this becomes a very valuable thing. And in this case, that's before we get to the ballet and modern dance and orchestra and all the other people that are here that are so interesting.
And I know that that's why we all enjoy coming here, is there's this great cross pollination of creative ideas. So the assignment we were given was to take our iPhones, and this was particularly difficult for Konrad because he doesn't have an iPhone. >> The twenty-first century is coming on a little too quickly for me. >> He's fighting it tooth and nail. We were supposed to take our iPhones and take a photograph of light as subject, and we had 15 minutes to do this. Complicating the matter was that really, not all of us understood the assignment. So, we'll see how this goes.
I am going to start so that I can get mine out of the way. so I, I' ll be honest I forgot about the assignment, and I didn't think of it until this morning. And I thought oh well, I woke up early anyway, I'll go outside in the good light and totally overcast, no light outside at all. So I went back inside, just into my room and started playing just with whatever light was in the room. there was a painting on the wall with some light on it. And I started fiddling with that, and didn't really get anything that I like. So, none of those really did anything for me.
And then the lamps have these weird little cut-out things in them, and they were casting patterns on the wall but they weren't actually contrasty enough for me to get anywhere. So then I started playing with the holes in the lamp and didn't get anywhere so I gave up. And went to the, the cover that was on the bed because I thought, well, this is kind of an interesting play of light. And fiddled with that some and didn't like those either. So it was really turning out to be a grim morning. I went back to the wall, and I think the thing that I finally ended up with that I liked was this in here.
I actually got in tight on a lamp and found these kinds of patterns in here. Maybe, maybe something like that. I feel like I learning something during this assignment though, which is I don't think I'm actually that taken with light as subject just for lights on sake. I was not finding myself looking at light patterns on the walls and feeling very much, and its very different then being outside in a landscape where I see light and I go oh, wow, this is really awe inspiring.
It, it, it feels like I can, I can appreciate a nicely landscaped garden and know that it's beautiful, but I don't get this real powerful feeling like I got when we went out to the wilderness preserve the other day and the wildflowers were blooming. And, and so it's making me think that my appreciation of light is light as a n, natural phenomenon just, not just light as a compositional element and I've never really noticed that before. >> So you think that dealing with strictly artificial light was sort of a barrier for you in finding a way to something that you like. >> Exactly, yeah. I, I think I like to go outside and see naturally occurring light because it says something about just the wonder of the natural world or something, I don't know.
>> You know, I was struck then by the fact that you had said that it was overcast. There was no light, right? Well, there's a very diffuse, beautiful moonlight. >> There was a very diffuse, but, yes, yes. Yes. >> Right? And in some cases, that's a gorgeous light. >> Absolutely. >> And you work really hard to open shade. You work really hard to get that light, but our mindset, our prejudice is, if we don't have that raking, morning light, there's no light. >> Yeah, and I did think about that. And, and I just thought, I don't know if this is light as subject, how do I shoot the light that's so perfectly even that it's not really.
Like, I want it bouncing off of something in that really beautiful wrapping way that it does. So, you're right, that's something I should go try. It does beg the question, is there such a thing as bad light, or are there are only bad photos? >> I've seen bad captures of light on many occasions. >> There is that yes, yes. So that was, that was my demoralizing yet educational experience. All right, Konrad, I, I actually did loan Konrad my phone. >> Ben was kind enough to help be down this road with a, I have a phone in my camera that I think has a 0.34 megapixel capture and a plastic lens of some sort.
my whole approach it's, Ben was talking about the artificial light being odd for him, I shoot almost everything I do with artificial light. So, I kind of went in the opposite direction, and, and tried chasing the sun to see if I could find some way to bend it to my will. And typically, in my personal work, I look for geometry curves, planes, angles and try to find relationships with it. And I further want to separate myself from what I normally do by. To me light is subject sort of not representating any thing of recognisable form and just starting to look at patterns that the light creates get the light away from what it illuminates.
Or just the pattern of the light and the shape of the light became the subject rather than what was being illuminated. >> Well I think that's really the valuable part of this exercise. And if you haven't done this exercise before it's, it's a really good one, because it makes you stop seeing the world as a bunch of objects and start just seeing the world as light bouncing off of things. >> And as I was really challenging myself to find interesting light. That wasn't expressing what it was falling upon, where I could sort of separate it, and make light the subject by default. Where here, I think I failed because you recognize the floor, but I really like the pattern, the shape, and the light that was striking it.
So I worked it a little bit and went from there and tried an angle. But then when I finally just got to the edge of the steps, I think that's where I started to get away from the subject and more to the light. >> You know, Konrad, it's interesting, just like with Ben. It's interesting to me that you're self imposing limitations, and your limitation is that you can't recognize the object that's being lit, right? >> Mm-hm. Yeah. >> And that somehow invalidates the light that's lighting the object if you can understand what that object is. So you're saying, I really want it to light but I don't want to tell what I'm lighting.
>> Well, and that's where, what I was going to do is isolate light as subject, because my fear was that if I let the light tell the story of what it was illuminating, we tend to look at what's being illuminated rather than at the light itself. >> Okay. >> And what I was trying to do was force the viewer to concentrate on the light rather than what it was striking. And that, that I don't know if I succeeded I had 15 minutes. Ben actually gave me a great tutorial on how to work an iPhone camera first, though. So I felt like I had all the right tools at my disposal. >> All right, Troy.
>> I have one whole image. >> All right. >> And it's sort of, you know, classic cliche, I guess, a variation on an equivalence shot. But, for me, you know, it's interesting the way I always approach light is in relation to the subject. I never approach light >> It tend to itself. >> With no subject, there is no light. In my opinion you know, the light is used to illuminate the subject. So, I don't see how you could have light as a subject. You have to have something for the light to reflect on.
>> You can't see it passing through the air. It has to bounce of off something. >> So to me there is always, so, I always approach light in relation to what it is that I'm photographing, you know. And in this case, it was these extraordinary clouds, which we have here every night, seemingly like clockwork, which are really just incredibly stunning, you know? And it is a little bit of a cliche to do, you know, the sun, sunset magic hour clouds. But, I don't know. I mean, it's, it's, it's also endlessly fascinating to look at you know, sort of what happens in nature with you know, with the sun, and what it does as the light moves across, you know, these wispy clouds and, and the way, you know, it, it gradates.
You know, I mean, to me, light is always in relation to a subject. Without the subject, it doesn't exist. >> We speak so much about light being the raw material that we work with as photographers but, but is that really true? It's, it's no good if you don't have it bouncing off of something. >> Right. Well, I mean, we, we photograph reflected light, basically. And so, I mean, it always is in relationship to the subject but it's the material we use to illuminate the world. You know, I mean or well, the world is illuminated by light. So you know, I don't know, I always I think, I think it's impossible to take light light itself is the subject.
Without reflection you won't see it. >> Yeah. >> Yeah. >> Alright, Richard. Well when I was listening to the assignment being given. >> Oh you listened to the assignment? >> I didn't take that assignment. >> I actually heard that I was to photograph light without bouncing it off something. >> 'Kay. >> So I interpreted that to mean a source of light. I was going to photograph sources of light. Right? So I took that literally and so I went back to my room and I started looking around for sources of light. And the television I thought was really a fabulous source of light even though what I'm really photographing is the phosphor pattern on the TV, it's still a light emitter.
So to me, it was you know, within the confines of the assignment, it was emitting light. and I also thought, well, the great thing about the iPhone is the tiny little short lens that it has. So I'll come in really tight to things and use that very short perspective. and then let it autofocus, and do what it'll do and then respond to what I see on the screen. And now I also found a Frennel lens over top of the light in the shower to protect it from the moisture.
So I photographed that and, and, so I really saw it as transmitted light. and then I found a window and so really it became abstract transmitted light, and then the light bulb in my lab. >> These are very cool, it also shows the importance of a good rationalization when defending your work. So that was really well-crafted and sturdy, I gotta say. >> That's my art school education. >> That's okay. You got it, I can't wait to read statement about it. >> I think it also really points up why you want to see a photographer's portfolio before you give them an assignment.
I think it's interesting, we all four basically got the same instruction, and went in four completely different directions. >> And, and again, that's the value of a workshop environment like this and it's, it's why we come here, and we all actually teach here quite a bit. You ought to check out the Oklahoma Arts Institute website. You may find a way of coming and doing a workshop with us. and I know you guys also teach in other places. If you don't have a workshop available to you, or you can't take the time off for that, there are other ways of getting this kind of interactivity. Again, you've just seen four of us take mostly the same assignment and come back with really different images, and that's a really valuable way to start seeing the world differently.
The very lowest level, you can go join a Flickr group online, although I think this kind of real world interaction is really valuable. There are maybe local camera clubs, Instagram groups, things like that. You guys know of any other suggestions for people to get out and get this kind of interactivity? >> I think most cities these days of, of any size at all will have some sort of a local arts organization, I know Normal has the Fire-house Art centre. look to the local art museums, there'll be a lot of things going on there that you can find the a good place to start.
>> So it's really, it's really worth it trying to get this kind of collaborative environment. It can be very, very inspiring. Guys, that you very much. It was a lot of fun. I'm not going to shoot any more with my iPhone.
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