Editor's Notes

Editor's Notes

Photography is by definition "drawing with light" and that's what we do every time we press the shutter release button. We take the light reflected from our subjects and etch the moment as a latent image on film or as a binary code that lands up on our memory cards. By now we all take this for granted, but in truth we share a miracle that, when I stop to think about it, is quite startling. We assume that our metering systems will balance all the factors that go into exposure--the range of light values in the scene, the speed of the film or sensor, and the aperture and shutter settings that make it work--and deliver an image that we can later reproduce for all to see. We trust that our ability to read light will allow us to get all the color and tonal values that create a beautiful continuous tone image. And we hope that all our efforts will result in photographs that are meaningful to our family, friends, and business partners, as well as be satisfying to our own sensibilities about the world.

In this, our lighting issue, we address some of the issues that have always challenged photographers--rendering light in a way that expresses our feelings about the moment in time we hope to capture. Today's cameras, light meters, film, and, yes, chips, are truly amazing in how they allow us to control, master, and manipulate light. So-called "intelligent" metering systems in cameras segment the scene into many parts and analyze the light values in each, then compare those values to lighting "solutions" stored within the metering system's microcomputer and kick out a reading. This process of light analysis even extends itself to situations when we work with flash--be it from on-camera flash or multiple units spread throughout our shooting space. This is a far cry from what we had to deal with just 10 or 20 years back and makes more room for creativity and less need for calculation.

But if lighting were so easy we'd all be producing perfectly exposed images with every nuance of color and tone we desire with every image we make. But you and I know that just isn't so, and we all need to sit back and think about light not so much from a technical point of view but from a sense of what it can do for us and our images. This contemplation of light is all a part of the process of making photographs, and it's what separates the fine photograph from the snapshot. Zone System aficionados appreciate what it means to "previsualize" the light values in the final print. Although that sounds a bit weighty it does point out the benefit of taking some time to study light and how it affects the subject and scene before us.

Photography is all about light, and we don't need a camera and film to appreciate the divine beauty available to us each and every moment of our lives. But what the camera does is teach us to see and admire light and to observe how each moment is unique. So take some time to hang out and watch the way light changes on the canyon wall as the clouds move across the sky and cast shadows among the cliffs and crevices, or how tall buildings reflect light across the street and fill the shadows of the shady side of the boulevard. Observe a face as you sit across from someone on a bus and watch how the light plays on him or her as you move down the road on your commute.

Then, when you later take a camera in hand you can use that power of observation to wait for the moment when light enhances what stands before you and make images with high light appeal. Light informs our world with form and texture. Photography is the way we pay homage to that life-giving force and how we can share our recognition of its beauty and strength with others.