This is the fourth part of a series on On Assignment.
"Light ...the soul and medium of art."
John Constable - Artist (1776 - 1837)
Pick any group of beginning to intermediate photographers roughly equal in experience and enthusiasm. From my years of teaching workshops, I know one thing to be true: Their photographs will show they are sharply divided into either having or lacking a vital photographic skill — the ability to see and use light. Over the years, I’ve learned that looking at light is one thing, but seeing light with an artist’s eye is quite another. In order to improve, a photographer needs more than a mere awareness of light. He/she must understand and respect the tremendous impact the quality, color and direction of light can have in the success or failure of a photograph. Professional photographers earn their living largely because of their ability to use light. They know how to make interesting light happen, whether shooting in the studio or outside. They realize good light is more than important to quality photographs. It’s crucial.
Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, using light to your best advantage usually boils down to three options: find it, wait for it or make it. One good way to practice using light is to temporarily delay looking for a visual statement to capture with your camera. Instead, think first about finding the best light, then make a picture happen there. I was reminded of this concept while shooting a sailboat race in Ketchikan, Alaska. The starting gun sounded in early afternoon. I took a number of shots of the first spinnaker run with the sun overhead. While the surroundings were spectacular, the midday light was nothing special.
Knowing that backlighting held great potential, I crossed my fingers hoping for better light later in the day when the sun would be lower. Late in the afternoon, with the sun just above a bank of gray clouds, I positioned my photo boat on a downwind leg of the race where the sails would be backlit. The boats soon approached, their spinnakers glowing like lanterns.
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