The Number One Law Of All Photography – Photography Basics

Welcome to Day 1!

Let’s jump right in with the fundamental law for all photography; You take pictures of light, not things.

That’s it! Why is it law and not a rule? For one thing, we’ll see tomorrow that all the rules of photography can be broken in one way or another for creative reasons. But laws? Laws have dire consequences if they are broken.

By way of example, let’s see if you can spot the difference in the next two photos for Bhutan.

This is Dochula Pass with 108 Buddhist chortens overlooking the Himalayan mountains. Glorious light from our sun is radiating down on Earth and bouncing off of all the things and scattering in every direction. One of those directions happens to be right down the barrel of your camera.

Now, let’s suppose that glorious sun went out. Poof! Besides all the other horrible consequences involved, there is now no light (let’s also suppose all earthbound light sources are wiped out at the same time). Now what does the scene look like?

The stuff is still there, but the light is all gone.

Your camera has a fundamental need for photons. Fundamental to the light we see, photons bounce off of things and entering your camera’s lens, be it a DLSR, smartphone, drone, etc…  This is what interacts with your camera’s sensor to produce an image (more info on photons here). While technically not all light contains photos, almost everything you’ll ever photograph will require them.

That’s the long and the short of it.

Without light, you can’t take photos. And even with light, the subject can look different in different types of light.

A little later on I will be giving you some challenges to try out on your own as a way of reinforcing the ideas. And because practice is essential to improving in photography. For now, let me show you a simple example.

These are the same peppers in the same bin. The only difference is the angle of the light.

In the first image, the light is coming from in front of (and above) the peppers. In the second image, the light is coming from behind (and above) the camera.

Just a matter of taking two steps forward to shoot a different angle, but the result is dramatic. From ugly, almost colorless peppers to wonderfully red-orange delights.

I think it’s important enough of a law of photography to repeat it one more time, but with larger letters.

You take pictures of light, not things.

That’s the lesson for today. Nice and easy, but fundamental to understanding all of what is coming over the next 43 days of this adventure into photography.

Tomorrow we will cover 9 Rules You Should Learn To Break.

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

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

1 Comment The Number One Law Of All Photography – Photography Basics

  1. Victoria Cigler October 30, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Thank you for offering this 43 day program…Wonderful lesson…looking forward to the next 42 days…..


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