Photography Challenge: Use Light as Your Subject

Have you ever taken a photo in mid-afternoon when the sun was high in the sky and discovered that no matter what you did, the image looked terrible? Like, flat and too bright? I have. It's so frustrating. I've gone out there with the best of intentions and photographed away, only to be disappointed with every shot I took. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what was wrong. That is, until one day I realized that my lighting was the problem. Since I was outside when the sun was bright, everything I tried taking photos of was flooded with illumination and way to aglow. I compared my shots to those I liked from others and it was obvious what I was doing wrong. I was ignoring the most important element of photography - light. Well, I guess I wasn't completely ignoring it. I mean, it was there all right. What I was ignoring, or not taking into account was how the light played off of the subjects of my photos. During mid-afternoon, there's far too much light to play off of much of anything. There's no counter-play. It's all light and barely anything else. It's earlier and later on in the day when the sunshine is much more subtle and far easier to manage. It's then when you can delicately determine how the light affects things in the scene. That's the important thing to consider.

Take a look at this photography.


What's the most important element of the picture? Is it the wall? The street? The building across the street? No, it's the sunshine. The sunshine is the most noticeable thing in the entire scene. Can you imagine what this photo would look like if there was no sunshine? Or if the sun was hidden behind some clouds? The image would look awful and people would wonder why it was taken at all. I mean, all that's captured is a wall and a street. But with the sun hitting things the way it is, the image comes alive and becomes interesting.

So here's a challenge for you; go outside with your camera during the golden hour (right before sunset) and look for the sun. Look at how it hits things and how it makes you feel. Don't worry so much about what the light is specifically hitting. Focus more on the interplay between the one subject and the most important subject (the light). Then, take some photos and bring them back inside to review them on your computer. If you don't think you hit the mark, try it again. Keep using the sun or other light as the most important subject in your photos and you'll eventually create things that others are interested in. I think you'll be impressed with yourself.

Do you have any examples of light usage in your photography? Care you share those examples with us? I'd sure like to see them. Thanks!