How to find light, when you are standing in it
K Y O T O / J A P A N
You are the picture
Would you like to grab your camera, step outside, and always find great light? We scour the globe in search of good light. Free from the tricks of the studio, the real test for a photographer is if they can find great light without any help from Photoshop or a strobe. The magical light that we find in great pictures often eludes us on a daily basis. The search goes on in vain…equipped with low light lenses and high ISO cameras the search does not seem to be any easier today than it was 50 years ago…but why?
Famed National Geographic photographer and fellow member of the Explorer’s Club, David Doubilet tells a story that everyone can put to use. Many of you might not know David by name, but will certainly recognize his work. On a dive in Papua New Guinea, David was surrounded by a school of barracuda. As their silvery bodies encircled him, he decided he could not get a good shot. In this moment, he realized that HE WAS THE SHOT! The picture he wanted to take was of a diver in the middle of the school, not a picture taken from the inside. So he went up to the surface, grabbed one of the other divers and told them to get in the picture. The result is one of the most famous underwater pictures of the last fifty years.
I tell the story of Doubilet often in workshops to ease the stress of many photographers. Many photographers overlook the fact that the good light is ON THEM, not around them. Last year, while we were in Kyoto on a model shoot, one of the photographers, Larry Hayden, felt stuck looking for light. Most of the time Larry enjoys taking cityscapes in the early morning hours on a tripod. The new challenge of photographing a model, in the back alleys of Gion (the Geisha district) challenged Larry’s sensibilities.
Being a teacher of good faith and a sense of humor, I told him he was the picture. I snapped a picture as proof. Confused, he looked at the screen on the Monochrom and laughed. He was in the light the entire time, so he could not see it. The rest of the shoot was a breeze for him. He could step back and see what I was talking about, which made the afternoon more enjoyable and the pictures even better.
Next time you are struggling to find a picture, take a step back…you might be in your own shot.