Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lighting - an explanation of my rules

My two simple lighting rules may appear at first glance to be simplistic. That's because they are simplistic.
Do I have no respect for good lighting? I sure do. I have drooled over some pictures that had nothing going on except for some magnificent light. The photographers probably knew it, too, but didn't care. I didn't care, and I'm glad they didn't care.
I've rarely been known for my mastery of light, although I've had a few pictures that had nice light. My photos often deal with intentional shadows more than intentional light. In many circles these are seen as two separate things, and only the light is important. I think that distinction is rather od. (Sometimes I enjoy spelling odd in an od way. It can, on occasion, give me a little shiver of deliciousness.)
Do I preach one thing and do another? Yes.
I rarely stay with two simple rules of lighting. In my studio I often had 20 to 40 lights going at once. I did an image once that had 83 different lighting situations, all accumulated over a three-month period on a single 4x5 negative. (A national print judge, during a taped critique, said that I should be thankful that I had a lab that could do such superb work. I did have a lab that did superb work, but this print was a simple, straightforward, machine print. Economy.)
So am I a hypocrite? Call me anything you like, but let me explain something first. I have watched many photographers work. The best ones spend very little time fiddling with their lights and equipment. The worst ones fiddle and fiddle and fiddle some more. I watch the subject wilt in the process - sometimes literally. The moment fades. The cheese dries out. The flowers droop. The smile disappears into something resembling a locked jaw. Muscle tone weakens. Joints stiffen. Eyes glaze over. Attitude fades and a lesser one takes its place. Things that should be starched wilt. Things that should be soft harden.
Anyone who has ever said, "Hold it, hold it, hold it," while they tinker one more time with the kick light will almost certainly have a well-exposed piece of crap.
Play with the light if you must. I usually do. Just understand what I finally figured out:
1 - Sure, photography is writing with light, but it is rarely ABOUT the light. It is about the moment, the story inside a moment. Don't stretch that moment into a danged hour and a half while you fiddle around. The moment will be gone. And the one you try to recreate with your perfect light will be a fake one, a lie. Truth is beauty.
2. A perfect image rarely presents itself as a gift. What we see almost always has defects. The more experience we get, the more things we find that need fixing. Fix them if you must, but realize that you are making an exchange. Be very careful about that exchange.

1 comment:

Gerry Coe said...

Been reading all your posts, well I got this far at the moment. I do so agree totally with this one. We all know people just as you have described. I am going to enjoy the rest of your "words"