What exactly does "reading the light" mean?

Started 2 months ago | Discussions thread
Michael Firstlight Veteran Member • Posts: 3,731
Re: What exactly does "reading the light" mean?
5

contadorfan wrote:

Often when reading about good photographers, they say to"learn to read the light." What is that, exactly, direction? Strength? Color? Knowing what settings to use instinctively?

I didn't read the light as well as I should have for many years. I was usually more interested in light quantity and exposure than light quality. It wasn't until I began doing studio work where I was 100% responsible for light - that was my wake up call. When it comes to light there are a few main elements - each of which have additional characteristics

  • The quantity of light
  • The quality of light
  • The direction of light
  • The color of light

These are just the major elements. There are many more attributes such as in the quality category:

  • Tonality
  • Specularity
  • Hard light
  • Soft light

With these we can control

  • Mood
  • Attention
  • Shape
  • Dimension
  • Depth
  • Texture
  • Pattern
  • Translucence
  • ...and more

I now look at light much differently than I did in my early years. I instantly notice all of the above and much more with every image I'm making - even outdoors in natural light when doing landscape work. Light is one of the most important tools in creating the message of an image. Every image has a message whether it be intentional or unintentional. As the saying goes, you cannot, not communicate. So then the next logical question becomes - how does the light factor into the message I am trying to convey in this image?

So for me, reading the light is more than simply taking account of its technical characteristics, reading the light is about reading the message one creates using it - ideally with conscious intent.

Regards,
Mike

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