Look about you — even inert objects and places appear differently at different times of the day and year. September and October, San Francisco’s sunniest months, are also the months when morning light cuts its strongest angle through a gate and into my building’s outer stairway. Thus, this abstract image. If you return with your camera to familiar places over the year and years, you’ll begin to notice, and to remember at least subconsciously, the shifting angles of light and meteorological effects and how they might work with your subjects.
At its root, photography is “writing (or drawing) with light.” That’s why there is no end of photography websites and businesses that incorporate the word “light” into their names. We live in a golden age for photography, with a dazzling and dizzying array of tools to sculpt light in the most minute and sophisticated ways, both in camera and in post-process.
Yet for many of us, the draw of images from the earliest days of photography is still strong. And our love for these images comes not from paternalistic patience (“Ah gee, they did such a good job considering their limited tools”), like one feels for a two-year-old’s first crayon scribbles. No, it comes from true appreciation of powerfully used light and shadow, shape and composition. Our brains seem wired to respond to these basics, as much as they do to fine details, elegant mid-tones, or creamy-smooth gradations. It’s as if we’re responding to buried memories of our first infant days, of the swimming swirl of blurry light and undefined shapes that welcomed us to life in the scarily wonderful world outside the womb.
The two images below (click to enlarge) were captured at dusk, near Orrest Head in Windermere, in the U.K.’s Lake District. My lens was a “travelling trade-off” lens. That is, it had great zoom range, but this range was packed into a compact form which — though excellent for international travel — came at a price of high digital noise and decreased sharpness in low light. Yet there is still light, glowing contrasty light; and the “noise,” when you transform the images to toned black-and-white, can even fill in for the lovely grains one found in film developing. Even a homemade pinhole camera can create affecting images, after all, and even so do I treasure the images from this “trade-off” lens.