Find Your Light

luminescence |ˌlo͞oməˈnesəns|

the emission of light by a substance that has not been heated, as in fluorescence and phosphorescence.

When I was looking for a name for my photography website in 2004, I chose the word “luminescence.”

While nature doesn’t emit light, it certainly can be captured, photographically, in ways that sometimes makes it seem so. How you choose to capture the luminescence of nature is part technical skill and part creative process. In fact, I think that’s part of the reason why so many people from diverse backgrounds enjoy photography. “Right-brained” individuals find joy in the creative outlet that is photography, while “left-brained” individuals will often marvel at the technology and optics that go into today’s camera systems. Photography offers people from either background a uniquely common ground. 

I get to meet a mixture of people at my photo workshops and classes. Some are highly technical; they want to know what specific f-stop to use or what numeric value to move a control slider to. Others are more creative; they might not have taken their camera out of Program Mode but they know a good composition when they find one. If you find yourself on either one of these extremes, take heart in knowing that you don’t need to know everything about lenses, nor do you need to memorize the “rules” of composition to improve your photography. You will, however, need to get some basics down, and more importantly, you’ll need to practice.

For my technically-inclined readers, know that there is more to photography than optimal optics and perfect exposure. Yes, these elements of photography are important, but a well-composed image taken with a consumer-grade lens will often win more awards than a boring shot taken with the lens with an amazing MTF chart. If you’re struggling to understand why your shots aren’t all that compelling, consider a portfolio review, either from me or another photographer. Review the fundamentals of composition, and practice them… but understand that unlike the rules of physics, the rules of creativity are meant to be broken.

To the creatives out there who struggle with the technical aspects of your camera, take heart in knowing that you’re not alone. I suggest starting out by putting your camera into aperture-priority exposure mode, and learning what effects different apertures have on shutter speed and depth of field. I know it can be a challenge, but behind the f-stops and shutter speeds you’ll find new ways of controlling creativity that you won’t get in Program Mode. Eventually, you’ll have a new set of creative tricks in your bag and it really won’t seem technical at all.

Finally, keep in mind that no matter which side of the spectrum you’re on, if you’re going to be good at photography, it’s always about finding your light… within your environment and within yourself. Practice makes perfect, and there is no quicker way to climb the learning curve than by fully immersing yourself in photography with other people from different backgrounds. Enjoy the journey, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone once in awhile.

Further Reading

The Photographer’s Guide to Digital Landscapes

Field Notes: A Photographic Journey

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