Ambient Light and Camera-Toting Ducks
As the seasons change, summer’s harsh light changes to fall’s softer light. Through the seasons, we photographers use ambient light to illuminate our images. Rembrandt, one of the great masters, used ambient light to illuminate his subjects (he couldn’t afford a set of studio strobes), and he skillfully depicted this light in his portraits. I sometimes refer to myself as an “ambient light photographer”, shooting with only the available light (partly because I’m scared of trying to figure out how to use external lighting—more on that in a later Blog).
I recently viewed the exhibit opening of “Ambient Light: A Natural Luminosity” at the Minneapolis Photo Center. The featured images were produced using ambient light and were beautiful. To produce great images, we don’t require expensive equipment or travel to exotic locations. The winning image was shot locally at a Target store in downtown Minneapolis. (For those of us who live south of the river, downtown Minneapolis could be considered an exotic location.) One of our most powerful creative tools is our vision—the ability to see great images in common places.
Exhibit juror Jim Brandenburg eloquently summarized these ideas in his juror statement:
Fine representational painting and photography are mostly reliant upon the magic of the quality of light that is difficult to describe. When we see it, we know it. The camera is uniquely able to record that magic light, then capture a remarkable instant that even our own eye and mind together cannot achieve. Forms and shapes in our surroundings painted with compelling light offer countless possibilities for our cameras and us to frame and make the decision.
The common perception that someone in my position often hears is that one must possess a fine and expensive camera to make important photographs. The other is that if one could only travel to an exotic location the magic moment and scene will be there for one to record that prizewinning image. Both assumptions are wrong.
But I do know that the location of the winning image was made in an almost profoundly commonplace setting. In fact I would expect a Target store in the American Midwest to be a most unlikely destination for a visually hungry photographer. Enough said about the exotic location as a requirement for a fine photograph.
The winning images I feel accomplish and beautifully exhibit the theme of this competition. Of course one might say every image made is with ambient light. It is that “special” quality of light and composition that set fine images apart. The past couple of years I have juried several European competitions where more than 100,000 images were reviewed in total. What always amazes me is how the eventual winning frames stood out and are remembered through the process from the first moments of seeing them. Often it is the light quality and composition and not the circumstance or location that makes the immediate and lasting impression. The same phenomenon happened here with this collection.
And now for something completely different…
I will leave you with a laugh. If you are a photographer and have never seen the “What the Duck” comic strip, you are missing great humor. The strip focuses on the foibles of a camera-toting duck. Photographers will appreciate and understand the humor. Below is a sample strip. Visit What the Duck on line for more.