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The Necessity of Photographing Light

One of the best things you can do to improve your images is to photograph light instead of objects. It’s something I focus on in every workshop and is central to the way I myself compose images.

I shared this in a recent newsletter and received some feedback which I think misunderstood the concept. The concern was that if you photograph light, the image might become more “abstract art” than an identifiable landscape.

While I can appreciate that, the confusion lies between how we perceive things in reality and how a photograph communicates that to the viewer.

When we experience a landscape, there’s a lot more going on than simply what we see with our eyes. (If not then you should seriously question your motivation to make a photograph.) And even what we see is significantly influenced by our subjective perception.

For example, research has shown that not only is color subjective, but certain colors provoke strong feelings in people. Blues and purples are more pleasant than yellows, for instance, while greens tend to be the most arousing.

Yet the photographic medium limits us to a single sense, the visual sense. Within that we understand and use what we can call the “visual language.” Light in all its variations is a major component of that language.

Photographing light does not mean ignoring the subject of your landscape. It means using light to give meaning and emphasis to the center of interest, to imbue the image with a sense of depth that goes beyond the literal.

What I strive for the most is to make the location and subject matter almost irrelevant, in favor of evoking an emotion. That’s because when I see a tree, or a lake, or a seascape, I want to convey what I feel, not what I see. I want the image to resonate with the viewer.

Light is the most powerful way to convey that. When a photograph or painting resonates with me, it’s almost always because of the way the artist has used light in a powerful convincing manner.

Study light in all its forms, from a beautiful red sunset to a foggy misty day. It will reveal much when you look closely.


Everything in this image is composed around the light, and how it affected lines, shapes, colors, patterns and drama.


Light forms the shapes and creates interest, energy, and scale. Very little about the actual “objects” interests me. The light is what I see and feel. 

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