ABOUT THE LIGHT – Marilyn Armstrong

Why do you take pictures? What makes you pick up your camera? Is it just the beauty of the scene? Or the smile on someone’s face?

I’m sure it is different for each of us, but this morning, I remembered what it is for me. Because even before I turned on the coffee machine, I grabbed my camera. The light was coming through the window and the Dutch door and I saw something. I remembered abruptly that this is what always grabs me. I take pictures of my granddaughter, my dogs, friends just like everyone else. You don’t need a degree in photography to take a snapshot.

Spectacular scenery is inevitable. Like any photographer, I’m going to try to grab it because I’m a sucker for a pretty picture. But that’s not it. In the final analysis, it’s the light. The color, the subtlety, the flare, the radiance.

It has always been about light. My very first roll of film, in black and white, about half the pictures were of light coming through trees.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to show just how light filters through leaves or the way it shines through a window. Reflected light on water or wet sand. The sun as it rises or sets. I love the subtleties, the minute by minute changes of color of the sky.

That’s why I almost never raise the saturation level in a photograph. I’m looking for delicate shadings and subtle colors. I don’t want everything more vivid. I am more likely to turn the color and contrast down than to push it up.

Misty beach

The changing colors of the light through the seasons: golden in autumn, nearly white in winter and how these annual color shifts change the way the world looks. Ephemeral, fleeting, soft. I love shadow, the brother of light and how these change with the time of day and the seasons. I can watch for hours the changing colors of the sky while the sun moves across until it finally sinks below the horizon to full dark.

Have you ever watched the sunset from the late afternoon until full dark? The light lingers even after the sun is below the horizon. The further north you are, the longer the sky stays light. Everyone shoots brilliant sunsets or sunrises. I favor sunrises, but I realize that may have something to do with living on the east coast.

Facing east makes sunrise more accessible.  Yet even the most ordinary dawn or dusk contains its own beauty. It’s harder to capture it. Brilliant color is easy compared to incremental pastels. You don’t get nearly as many “oohs” and “aahs” from a photo composed of softer pastels.

I’m fascinated by the way shadows shift as the day ages. All the colors of the world change as the sun sinks and we move into artificial light — street lamps, candles, neon signs — each have their own spectrum and effects.

It’s all about light.

16 thoughts on “ABOUT THE LIGHT – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. Light certainly plays a large part in the success of a photograph. It is one of the reasons probably that I now have the habit of going outside first thing in the morning to see what the sunrise is doing. Sometimes it does something and other times there is no light.

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    • I suppose it’s why gray days are so dull for a photographer. Unless there’s a really interesting fog, it’s just dull. This is our last bright day. Tomorrow, the rain begins again. The ground is like a dirty, sodden sponge.

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    • Often my best shots are while the coffee is gurgling in the coffee maker. I take a few birds (the really great looking birds always vanish as I pick up the camera, only to reappear as soon as I close down), any flowers in bloom. I used to also gets changing leaves and snow, but we didn’t get much autumn and no winter at all. It has been very gray this year.

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