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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.
As a photographer, you should always be on the lookout for great light, and late afternoon is a fantastic time to find it. I've got some going on right now. These trees have wonderful light on them. I love that they're lit up on one side and shadowy on the other, and there's this nice gradient around them that really reveals their shape. I like the reflections that I'm getting in the water. I like the texture that's coming up because of this very contrasty light that we're getting This is a case of good light meaning, I like the way that it's illuminating my subject.
In this case, I saw these trees up against the mountain. I decided that's what I wanted to photograph. But I needed it in very good light. There's another way of thinking about good light. And that's thinking about light, itself, as the subject of an image. Rather than going out, and looking for a particular thing. Go out looking specifically for light that is interesting. Here's an example of what I mean. Here's another one. These are instances of the patterns of light, the play of light, being what caught my eye. And what makes the photograph.
What the light is bouncing off of is irrelevant. Notice that it's not about the shadows in the picture. That's a different kind of exercise, a different thing to think about. This is really about the light. And that's what I want to encourage you to do this week. I want you to go out and look for light as the subject of an image. Now I'm going to give you a way to get yourself off the hook in so far as sabotaging yourself with self criticism here. This is an exercise. You don't have to come back with great pictures. You have to come back having learned to recognize light as a subject.
That's all we're going for here. So go out and look for plays of light. Go out and look for interesting shapes that are being created by light, and shoot them. Work them just like you would any other subject. Move around a lot, get closer, get farther. Try different framings, try different focal lengths. If you'd like to know more about this exercise check out my foundations of photography composition course where you will see a class actually do this exercise and get some feedback that'll give you a better idea of what you might be looking for. The reason to do this exercise, is that very often when we move around the world, we're seeing the world.
We're seeing things. But, we're photographers. We're supposed to be seeing light. So, this is a great way to separate yourself from the literal reality of the world and move into a realm of pure light which is where you really want to to be to take good pictures.
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