I forget where, but recently read an article that referred to the true meaning of the word photography: painting with light. Reading that article truly got me thinking about many of the amazing images that I come across each and every day. Yeah, the composition, the exposure, those might be all spot on, but the photograph itself is absolutely nothing without the light. The light shows the nuances of the image, the creases in a piece of paper, the folds in a dress, the sparkle in those eyes, the flicker of the dust settling from the rafters. The light makes the image.
For a long time I have concentrated solely on photographing nature. That is where the best light was and I had no drive to photograph people. Nature had a way of staying in place when people wouldn’t, allowing me to get that perfect angle, get the best lighting that I could. And because I was outside, the lighting was amazing! Huge variations from sunrise to sunset, clouds, rain, fog, anything I could dream of. The times when I was able to capture this beauty were few and far between, partly because of my laziness, but the reward was just the same. I came to believe that this type of light would never come to me were I photographing people, most especially, indoors.
The bane of my existence was the flash. I loathed it. Shining bright uniform, unyielding light, straight at my subject. A white so pure, that it washed away the stray rays that happened to permeate through the leaves. I took to not using it, ever. I was even so stubborn that I wouldn’t use it when it might be the only possible way to get a good exposure. Indoors, at candle-lit dinners, I never used that flash, cranking the ISO to the max, begging family to stay still for the long seconds that the exposure would take, in hopes of getting a sharp picture. It came to the point, I see now, that was completely hopeless. Pictures of Thanksgiving being too dark to truly make out much detail.
It came to a point when I was glad when I received a camera with no flash. I popped on some fast glass and was able to pull through, taking decent enough family photos without that harsh amateurish glow of a flash. Then I got a flash. You must think that I was crazy. The guy, who with nothing else, would throw away a flash as a useless piece of junk. That guy… got a flash? Why yes. Yes he did.
You see during this time I had been perusing photography websites and books as any want to be photographer who doesn’t really think he has better stuff to do than sit around on the computer all day does. I saw that there were hundreds, if not thousands of photographers that use flashes to get an awesome look in their photographs. The photographers I saw were not waiting on nature to give them perfect light, but they were taking matters into their own hands. With flashes, none the less. They were actually painting with light, not just letting it happen to grace their camera sensors.
Back to the article that I had read. It said to imagine the subject to be completely devoid of light and then to take your imagination and let it come forth. This was something that I had never thought of. I finally understand the phrase “painting with light”. Photography is more than just the ability to take a decently composed picture, it is the ability to take the particle-ray of light and forcing it to fall in the exact way to paint a picture.