Create: Light of my Life

For a photographer, there are few things that truly matter. Strip away the promotion, the ego, the insecurity, the fear of being judged and the demands of career and what’s left are trace elements of what separates a picture from a photograph.

Backlit rain over the Pecos Wilderness. A simple, light-driven photograph.

I can always tell someone’s talent level by how they speak about their work. Nobody of intent uses the term “shots.” “Did you get some shots?” they ask. No, no I didn’t. You might call this snobby. I call it educated, based on studying trends on a daily basis for nearly thirty years. “I’m gonna go take some photos,” is another I find telling. Go ahead, go. My guess is you will shoot what you have already seen.

Where does my harshness come from? It comes from the respect I have for photography. Real photography. Stripped down, isolated, personal, original work, often made under less than ideal circumstances by people who need it more than want it. The silent few who just pound it out brick by brick with no need for acknowledgment or clickable relevance.

For those of us who work this way, and yes I’m including myself in this group because it’s my site and I can, we cast no shadow of the watchful eye. There is no pressure to perform for outside eyes or forces. There is only the need to satisfy that inner lust for personal truth. Personal truth, or vision or habit perhaps. And to do so requires but few ingredients.

More of the same. Not a great image but one we often feel the need to make as a memory of the gift we were given.

We begin and end with light. Not just the top of the pyramid, but the very latest dusting of fresh snow above the treeline. Without light, there is no cause. Light is the tripwire unleashing the full force of juices that merge to form photography.

The vast majority of the time a photographer is at idle. Waiting. Watching. Like a truckstop big rig. Running lights on, power on reserve. You can never turn it off but you can conserve until the time is right. Clutch in, geared to first and the foot slips off the brake. Light tells you when to move. Light giveth.

And when the move comes it sets in motion the machinery of imagery, the rest of the critical elements falling in line like soldiers at boot camp, small cogs in a massive machine running on the lubricants of life history, education, environment, training, patience, failure and the hunger of needing to know.

Again, not a great image but one that makes the photographer appreciate the angle and subtle nature of light patterns in the rain.(Reflectance is important.)

Intensely personal inclusion. A secret. A story you tell yourself. Voices. Internal dialogue. Doubt. But more than anything else; angle. The light of linear geometry. I’m here, it’s there. I move. Light is the two-wave hold down. We are never, ever in control and when it wants the light snuffs us out. The light is and will always be, undefeated.

Light taketh away. For those who have practiced enough to fully understand the laws of probability. How many more moments does one life have? The exact number escapes me but it’s less than you imagine. Those moments when the light is just right. Just ever so right. So when these moments come for someone like me there is pain involved. There is pressure. There is anguish. The anguish of knowing I must act and I must be forceful with my time and intent. Otherwise, I fail, it fails, we fail and then the pressure and pain are even worse.

The good stuff is always hidden behind the bar in the ornate black bottle. There is never enough, always in short supply and reserved for the chosen few with the goods to differentiate between rotgut and sublime. Good light comes in sips. It gives you just enough to know you want more, just enough to know if you take too much there will be repercussions.

So before you make your move turn and look down. What you see is your foundation. A life truly lived will have a spiderweb of cracks, but regardless of how jagged or deep the light finds a way. Without it, there is only dark.

19 Comments on “Create: Light of my Life”

  1. Nice post, well written but mainly very meaningful content.

    One, about how people talk about their photography (or anything else for that matter), it’s funny and quite intriguing at how linked are our words and our actions. Paying attention to key words in people’s vocabulary and you’ll learn more about them than they probably know about themselves.

    Two, Light.

    Three, patience and waiting for the right moment is key. That idle, never off, state you mentioned.

    Four, have a good day. May the light be with you!

    1. Jim,
      Flattering, and thank you but he’s way beyond me. I also like “Memories of a Dog.”

  2. I’m gonna be a contrarian here. Light, schmight. Gimme some content, gimme some form. Light’s just so you can see what’s there!

    Yeah, I get it, great light separates a good picture (or a bad one) from a better one. I just see a lot of people taking pictures of bullshit in great light, and producing… well, bullshit.

    1. Well…everyone records images for a different reason and for different audiences.
      I will be a contrarian too… If you allow me.
      If you think some images are bullshit…then they are not for you!

      I think Dan has represented that fact enough in his recent work…ans so do I.

      I am sure you will not like my work either.

      All the best anyway.

      1. Duncan,
        I think we are talking about two different things. I see and review work on a regular basis. Much of what I see I don’t really like but I have to be able to set those views aside and review the work for what it is. What do I say to a college kid who shoots fashion copied from the latest magazine? I don’t know anymore, but I have to have this conversation on a fairly regular basis. Light, and knowing good light from bad, is another issue. Many times when I see photographers hyping images made in bad light it’s because the race to share now outweighs the patience of good photography. Do you have time to wait four hours for the light to change if your only goal is to get something on IG? Most of the time, no. Most people are moving far too fast to place light at the top of the importance column.

    2. AM,
      Many of the people I see working today don’t have any understanding of light. The birding guys around Newport harbor who have camo’d their entire wardrobe, their lenses, and their vehicle but show up at 11:30 AM. Light is a great starting point for, well, great. Content will carry a picture. Ask the guy who shot the Hindenberg, but if you have a choice why not start with the best ingredients possible? I’ve taught a workshop with “professional” photographers who didn’t know what backlit meant. I had to take them outside and SHOW them. That’s how far we have fallen. Great light is also about direction and temperature, more things the modern, online drone knows little to nothing about. I just edited someone else’s work. 1500 images down to 150. They were shocked, and I was GENEROUS. I skipped through huge sections of images made in horrible light for no reason. They lobbied for content but good content in bad light is only average in the end. The beauty of photography, for me, is that rare combo of all things essential.

  3. I’ll grant that the best photos are the ones where everything is firing on all cylinders!

    I don’t know if it’s just that I notice it more, or if it’s a real thing, but I feel like photographers go on about light more than anything else, and in the end it’s about light … and everything else as well.

    Not knowing what backlit means is kind of astonishing, though.

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