What is Light?

Light is a gift in some photographic moments, and when light is presented, you must make the best of what you have. However, in the studio, you have full control of the light. I am researching the simple rules and guidelines to improvise my lighting skills and have a better understanding of the aesthetics I can achieve in the studio. I would rather learn from my mistakes, learn from lectures or even books and the internet than have poor quality lighting and ruining my images. Before taking my images or even brainstorming ideas, I feel that I need to understand lighting and build a relationship with it. Understanding the simplest of qualities, will help me understand how to bring out shadows, highlights, detail and saturation. I have chosen three books and various websites to give me the tools to develop my studio skills. As I am aware of photographic lighting, I have no real experience, though I have worked with lighting in moving image. This kind of lighting however, is different.

What is lighting?

Scientifically, light is a narrow band of electromagnetic radiation, we can see it because the optic nerves are sensitive to these bands of radiation. There are no accurate boundaries to the range in which we can see light as individuals are different, but on average our eyes are receptive to a range of wavelengths between 400 – 700 nanometers.

Radient energy exists above and below the visible spectrum of light. Above the visible spectrum is ultraviolet and below is infrared. The digital revolution has allowed us to use technology such as photography and film, to pick up these colours and and convert them into a range of visibility.


The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Photographers are typically interested in three physical properties of lighting – The wavelength/Frequency, the amplitude/intensity and the angle of vibration/polarization. The intensity of the light determines the brightness, the wavelength determines the colour and the changes of polarization are barely visible to the human eye, however these can be manipulated using polarizing filters.

Light causes shadows because it travels in straight lines, it is then reflected off a shiny surface like a mirror that reverses the angle of which the light falls. These simple laws allow the photographer to manipulate light to their advantage, using reflectors, mirrors and cutters. Light can also be refracted, meaning lenses can be designed to focus an image.

Light allows us to see colour, without it, the world would be colourless. For example, a green pepper only looks green if the corresponding wavelengths are present in the illuminating light. If an orange light that contains no green, falls over a green pepper, the pepper would appear grey and colourless.

Light that contains all the colors of the spectrum is known as daylight, but photographers use this term precisely. White light comes from radiating sources, the sun, lightbulbs, flash guns etc. However there is some underlining connection with heat. Photographers use the theory of colour temperature, the theory wavelengths on the spectrum heating up to describe the exact colour of a lightsorce (tungsten, florescent etc.)


The Nomograph


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