For the next few weeks, let’s push the envelope a bit and stretch our photographic technique. I’m taking these challenges from my e-book 32 Photo Etudes: Studies in Composition, Focus, Light, Motion. 

An etude (pronounced a-tood) is a technical study. The term comes from music. A photo etude is an exercise designed to enhance a particular photographic skill.

This week’s photo challenge is a lighting etude.

Photograph Interesting Light

Sometimes photographers look for a subject first – what we’re going to photograph – and forget to look for the light. Light is the medium of photographers – it is what we use to create photographs. Being able to see and use light is fundamental to photography.

For this etude, look for the light first. Almost any subject can be enhanced if light is falling on it.

Photo Under Clark Bridge
I love to photograph this bridge and visit often, but on this morning the sun shown perfectly on the concrete foundation – not the most attractive part of the bridge. This was the first time that I really understood how light could change something ordinary into something extraordinary.

I’ve published the above photo before because it’s all about the light. In a previous post (“The Meaning of Light”), I showed this same scene without the magical light of the morning sun – it’s a really boring underside of a bridge that most people wouldn’t look twice at let alone photograph. The light makes all the difference to this otherwise utilitarian subject.

This week, go for a photo walk and look for light sources. Where is the light coming from? The sun? A street light? Where does the light bounce off? A wall? A car?

I walked around Santa Fe one morning looking for light. I found a number of interesting doors and explored how the light and shadows were interacting with the decorative designs.

I love doors and windows, the more weathered the better. This salvaged door in Santa Fe has seen a few centuries.

I even waited a bit at one door for the light to come through a slit in the doorframe. Another etude in the book focuses on how to achieve the starburst effect that I used to spread the light in this image.

I loved the texture and color of the salvaged doors in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This one in particular showed careful carving and a weathered look that only comes with advanced age. I waited a bit until the sun was just at the right angle and snapped the sun flare through the opening adding another dimension.

Look for where the light lands and take a photo. It doesn’t matter if the subject is interesting or not, it matters only that it is illuminated.

Pay special attention to what is and is not illuminated by this interesting light.

I walked around Agra Fort looking for shafts of light coming through the high windows. Almost anything the light hit became magical – including these two Indian women.

Shafts of light illuminate little vignettes in the Agra Fort.

I love this next photo not because it’s of anything interesting – though the house we were photographing in Havana was quite interesting – but the light fell on this bed in an interesting way and created shapes on the floor and a mood.

Bedroom in Havana.

Shadows really let you see where the light is coming from. It’s not so much the shadow that’s important for this week’s challenge, it’s moving to better see the light.

Studio work is almost all about setting up the light. I like dramatic lighting that sets part of the face in shadow. In this studio shoot, I was looking for ways to use the natural light coming through a window. Part of Emily’s face is illuminated and part is in shadow.

Portrait of Emily in natural light. Fog added for atmosphere.

I include a number of etudes in my ebook that focus on seeing and capturing light and shadows. Some of the etudes are designed to help you find light sources while others allow you to explore what happens when you change your relationship to the light.

This week, go out and find some interesting light – even if your subject is mundane and your photo will be brilliant!

In each Photo Etude, the assignment is to create 12 photos, but for weekly challenges 12 isn’t necessary, just try your hand at the technique to get the hang of it. If you want to share multiple images to discuss with others, feel free to share on this Facebook Album.

Amazon Photo Etudes

If you want more photo etudes, the e-book is available on Kindle or directly through my website. To see a sample, check out the post I wrote when I published the book.

32 Photo Etudes Amazon