The Most Important Light in Photography

by Todd Smith on September 10, 2008

Lighting is everything in photography… It creates the mood, draws attention to specific details, and tells the story of the subject. With no light, of course, there would be no image to record.

Low backlight and sidelight are often flattering to any subject and the low evening or morning light outdoors are the favorites of photographers. Color in the light also affects the mood. Reddish light warms any subject and blue light cools it.

And there is hardness and softness of light. Soft light is seen when the light source appears to be larger or closer to the subject; hard light when the source is further or smaller in comparison to the subject. Hard light shows the details, the grain or imperfections of a surface, creating contrast with dark, hard-edged shadows. Soft light is romantic and smoothes and bathes the surface of everything it touches.

These all are practicalities of lighting in photography. Just noticing the changing light around us all the time is all it takes to learn the qualities of light and how to use them in an image.

But there’s one more source of light which is not often mentioned in photography. There is a light on which all lights depend: the light of consciousness, awareness, wakefulness or being.

We take it much for granted, but it importance can’t be underestimated. This is the light we bring to anything we see. A rested, blissful mind sees everything as beautiful. A tired, burned-out consciousness projects unhappiness onto any subject matter.

As in any art, technique is something to be learned, but awareness of the artist is what inspires any work.

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