Without light, there would be no such thing as photography. But simply having light isn’t enough. Cameras turn our three dimensional world into a two dimensional flat image. Light allows us to bring that third dimension back into our images. In order to do that, we need to know how to read it and how to control it.
In the first of a new video series from The Slanted Lens called Laws of Light, Jay P. Morgan looks at the humble sphere. And why not? It’s the perfect representation of three dimensionality which lets you easily see all the principles of light. I’ve seen similar demonstrations in the past using everything from pool balls to bowling balls.
Jay explains that there are five things that happen to your subject every time you turn on a light. These tell us things about the light source. Its size, its shape, and other factors.
I’ve seen slight variations on this before, using a little different terminology. The basic principle, though, is the same. It’s fundamental knowledge for understanding light, and how we can control it.
Understanding these principles is also what allows us to look at the work of others to determine how it was lit. It helps us to spot good light from bad. It informs us to what may be the cause of bad light, and how we may be able to fix it.
This is why simply having a lot of light means nothing. It’s why high ISO performance means nothing. Without understanding how the light is hitting your subject, and how to make it give you what you want, it’s not going to help you.
It’s also why the popup flash always looks pretty terrible. Using an on-axis small light just produces flat dull boring subjects with no dimensionality.
The same principles can also be applied to working outside in bright sunlight. While we may not be able to move the light (or have the patience to wait for it to move itself), we can move ourselves and often our subject for maximum effect. We can also diffuse it to make the light softer on our subject. We can even change the direction of it using mirrors.
So, watch the video, try it out for yourself. Try swapping out a sphere for another subject of a different shape and look at how it reacts under the light. Then start moving the light around. Make it small (hard), make it large (soft), and see what happens. It’s a great technical exercise to help you understand and grow as a photographer.
Did you learn something from Jay’s explanation? Did you already understand this? Did you learn it a slightly different way? Did he miss anything out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.