Look At The Light – Photography Experiments

Today’s topic in 40 Photography Experiments has less to do with using a camera and more to do with photography.

Set your camera down for a moment, please. You won’t need it today.

Here’s the experiment you can run:

1) Look some place other than this computer/phone screen (but memorize these easy steps first).

2) Imagine all the power goes out and the sun suddenly goes dark. Ignore the fact that the Earth would turn into an ice ball or that worldwide panic has begun.

3) Everything is pitch black. Not even star light can make it through our atmosphere.


Can you take a picture of the stuff you saw right before the lights went out?

Here’s the thing: You take pictures of light, not stuff. You may have heard me mention this before.

Let’s me type that again in a bigger font, because it is the root of all photography.

You take pictures of light, not stuff.

Sure, the light bounces off stuff and then you take a picture of that reflected light, but you don’t take pictures of stuff, just light.

It’s a hard concept for some to dial in, myself included. We’ll play around with this more in another experiment later in the series, but for now, take a look at these two images with me:

These are red chilli peppers drying in the afternoon sun in Bhutan (where I lead photo tours, hint 😉 ). The shots were taken 9 seconds apart, which was long enough for me to take the first photo, walk 10′ and then take the second.

These peppers are in exactly the same light, but look totally different. In the first one I am looking mostly toward the sun and in the second the sun is behind me. I’m not taking pictures of just chilli peppers, I’m taking pictures of light interacting with the chilli peppers.

Still don’t believe me?

Different guy in each shot, but the same light at different angles.

You’re don’t take pictures of stuff; you take pictures of light.

Here’s another experiment you can run:

1) For the rest of today, walk around without your camera.

2) Look at the difference in light from scene to scene as your day unfolds. Where is it coming from? Is it warm or harsh? Are there shadows? How does it make a subject shine or become obscured? What would happen if your subject moved into new light?

Never Done!

This experiment will continue until the day you die. Light is everywhere and as a photographer (you don’t have to be professional to be a photographer) you can’t help but notice changes. With practice, you will be seeing the subtle differences in light even when you’re camera is not with you.

Questions?  Pop ’em like Pez in the comments section below. or email me at peter@peterwestcarey.com.

Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

Photo ToursIf you enjoy the series, consider learning photography first-hand on a professionally led international photo tour in Nepal or Bhutan. More information can be found at Far Horizon Photo Tours