Light and Shadow

One of the ways I help move away from literalness is simply to focus my attention on the play of light and shadow. When I do this, I'm examining how light interacts with the things around me and creates shadows. The play between light and dark helps to focus on the details that make something what it is—whether it's color, shape, or texture. I may be turning my lens on a door, a wall, or a street corner, but I'm letting the light guide my eyes rather than trying to hunt down specific objects that I think would be photo-worthy.

I probably passed dozens of doors while walking down this street one afternoon, but it was the way the light cut across the peeling paint, the handle, and the lock that made me stop. The light and shadow helped to reveal the texture of the door and the wall as well as the shape of the handle and lock. The colors are vibrant, which helps give the image its pop. Those things are great, but it's the evidence of where the handle was before that helps tell the story of this particular door. I like the contrast of the unpainted and the painted. This not only provides great color contrast but also helps to tell a story within that single frame.

Awareness of light and shadow helped guide me to a worn door and lock, which, because of the light, becomes a beautiful subject for a photograph.

I've taken hundreds of pictures of doors and entryways, but this one is different because of those telltale qualities. Would I have seen it had I been looking only for pretty things to photograph that day? Likely not. An old door isn't on most people's lists of beautiful things. But because I allowed myself to be guided by the light, I was able to discover a beauty that others at the location were likely oblivious to.

Speaking of workspaces, this image was made while exiting my studio from the rear entrance. I can't tell you how many times I had walked down this stairwell on my way to the car. But on this particular day, I caught sight of the shadow that was being cast against the wall and the cloudy sky, and I began making photographs.

The image consists of nothing more than stucco walls and a sky with some clouds. Yet, those common things are revealed in a beautiful way, because of the quality of light and the graphic shadows that are cast against the wall. In that particular moment, within the context of the frame, those ordinary, simple elements have a relationship to each other, which help to reveal each element's color, shape, and texture. Using nothing more than a camera and a fraction of a second of time, I'm able to show you how I saw the world at this particular moment. You might not know exactly where it is or know that I was leaving the studio, but hopefully you do get a sense of seeing something beautiful.

TIP: Setting a limitation to pay attention only to light and shadow is very similar to giving yourself an assignment to photograph only things that are red or round or old. Those kinds of restrictions help to refine your eye and to see the world more carefully and specifically. Things that you would otherwise completely miss become obvious.

Despite walking down this stairwell hundreds of times, it wasn't until this particular day that I caught sight of the interesting shadows, which revealed the beauty of this scene.

Despite having driven past this scene many times, it wasn't until I saw the beauty of the light that I parked my car and made an image of this scene.

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