Sunday, February 6, 2011

Photograph = Drawing with Light

The roots phos (γραφις) & graphis (γραφη) are derived from the Greek words for light and stylus. Placed together, these roots make the word photograph... to paint or draw with light.

Light above everything else defines the essence of the image. When you view a photograph, you are seeing the effect of individual photons and wavelengths of light striking an image capture device. Whether image capture is due to a chemical reaction between light and silver (film) or photoreceptors powered by electrical circuits (digital), each photograph is a light "memory" of a fleeting moment in time.

Photographers are prone to obsessions... we will obsess about our gear, the software we use, the way we print, and how we manage our images. We obsess about our subject, the way to make that next great picture, and the places we want to shoot. However, many of these obsessions are misguided if we don't obsess about the light. 

Contrary to intuition, the optimal light for photography does not coincide with our biology. While light from a high-noon sun maximizes the ability of our eyes to focus the light onto the bio-receptors we call a retina, the details and subtleties we see will be lost on the electrical and chemical photo-imaging devices we use to make art. Our eyes have been refined through millions of years of evolution and are among our most important adaptations. We are a visual species that responds to visual cues and have thrived because of our ability to interpret the ubiquitous light data collected by our bio-receptors. But, this data is translated into blocked-up blacks and blown-out whites when we try to capture or vision with our image making devices.
We photographers must be more selective. Ironically, the film and digital devices of our creation are masters of the morning and evening light. The subtle hues that confound us during dawn and dusk are translated into tones that can be captured, printed, and displayed. During the hours when we struggle to see, the light is gentle and the range from black to white is not so extreme. I get up early, stay up late, and shoot when the light is soft. These are the times when the color pops and other are asleep. I like to shoot at the bookends of each day or wait for the weather to turn "bad," this is when I can make images that appeal to our biological need to understand the world with our bio photo-receptors. This is when I can use my lenses to paint with the light.
About the Images:
#1: Gondolas Before Sunrise: Shot in Venice before the working day. Canon 5D, 24-105 f4.0L @ f8.0
#2: Outcast: Tamarack Nature Center during a morning white-out. Canon 1DmkII, 300 f2.8L IS @ f3.5
#3: Canes in the Rain: Market Street Bolzano (Bozen) Italy. Canon 5D, 24-105 f4.0L @ f4.5
#4: Jack Frost: Frosted Jack Pine Tree (Pinus banksiana) Tamarack Nature Center. Canon 5DmkII, 100 f2.8Macro USM @ f8.0
©2000-2011 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

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