If you have learned one thing about the importance of light in a space — whether in nature, in the city or indoors, what is its primary function?
Without light, there is no color and no contour. Light floods a space to reveal its features—its boundaries, textures and colors. The more I think about it, the more I realize light is inseparable from our perception of space. Like I mentioned earlier, light has the power to alter our perception of a space, and this can evoke a particular mood.
For example, the Chicago skyline illuminated by the pinkish glow of the sunrise evokes a hopeful sentiment, while the same skyline against the last light of dusk can evoke a more ominous feeling. I think if anyone stopped to notice how the quality of light in a space makes them feel, whether in nature, the city or indoors, they would have little trouble doing so.
What is your philosophy about how light and color should intersect in a finished photo?
Light and color must be finely balanced with one another. Too much or too little light and the color either gets bleached out, burnt or just becomes imperceptible. I try to be mindful of how different temperatures and light intensities can create a myriad of color palettes and moods.
In a finished photo, I believe this balance must be finely-tuned by the photographer. The message the photographer wants to convey depends on the raw materials of the space being photographed: light, colors, shapes and textures.
How can photographers employ light to enhance their work?
Photography has been a great practice in mindfulness. I would recommend mindfulness to anyone—especially for photographers. Tune in to the source of light in each photograph. This starts by noting the time of day and direction of the sun. Notice the qualities of the light. Is it harsh, unmitigated by clouds or diffuse? Is it warmer (like Chicago’s street lights) or cooler (indoor fluorescents, cloudy day)?
Experiment by tuning into different qualities and different compositional elements that change with the light. Attend to just the light source itself, then just specific colors, or just shadows, or only reflections. For example, go downtown on a rainy day and notice all of the lights and colors bouncing off of the street. For 5-10 minutes, try to photograph only reflected light streaks from car lights. Likewise, take a walk through a forest during a misty sunrise and notice how the light brings out colors and textures on a specific forest feature, like tree bark, moss, leaves or wildflowers.