It’s All About the Light

Photography is all about light. Any photographer worth their salt will tell you that. But what exactly does that mean? I think sometimes people hear that phrase, but they don’t know how to apply it to their own photography, or how to think about it when they view a photograph.
For me personally, if you take that statement one layer deeper, you begin to understand that photography is really about the quality of light. The quality of light differentiates a mediocre photograph from a great one. A scene that is average under average lighting conditions can explode into a magical location simply with the addition of the right kind of light. Successful photographers know high quality light when they see it. More importantly, they know how to use light to their advantage. Just like a sculptor shapes marble or clay to create a work of art, a photographer uses light to shape the subject of a photograph. A photographer may even create different photographs of the same scene under different lighting conditions. It takes practice to learn this. As I have improved my photography over the years, I realize that I will spend the rest of my life learning about light. That is because the same holds for photography as for any pursuit: to be good at something, one must study it, learn it, and practice it. My goal is to become a master light sculptor!
Nothing epitomizes the quality of light more than the light beams that form when clouds partially obscure the sun. The effect can occur any time the sun is behind a cloud, but it is most dramatic in the early morning or late afternoon. Because the air typically contains more moisture in the early morning, the shafts of light can be especially mesmerizing just after sunrise. Long, glowing shafts of light can stretch like beacons across the sky from the clouds to the ground. The technical term for this phenomenon is crepuscular rays, but the more common terminology is God rays, Jacob’s Ladder, Buddha rays, etc. Whatever words you use, I absolutely love them, especially when there is a nice foreground to complement the atmospherics. When everything comes together, it is breathtaking!
The Foothills Parkway is my favorite place to hunt crepuscular rays and to practice light sculpting. I’ve been really lucky this fall to have spent several mornings along the parkway when the scene was on fire with light rays. The image I’ve included here is from several mornings ago. I don’t remember if this scene is from the first or second parking area, but there were several other photographers there. The sunrise was long over, so most of the photographers were packing up when this scene unfolded. The light rays began to explode about 45 minutes after sunrise. Amazingly, the other photographers continued packing their gear. I couldn’t believe it! Light sculptors live for moments like this! I wanted to say, wait! don’t go! But I was concentrating intently on my light sculpture, so I let them be. The light was very dynamic, changing quickly as the clouds moved and the sun rose. (Did I mention that light can be an action verb?)
I took dozens of shots, so I have a nice collection of images from the morning. This is my favorite so far. I hope you like it. I love the soft, dappled light illuminating the foreground. Needless to say, I was very late for breakfast that morning!


  1. Great post Steve. A very beautiful picture with good, clear insight into the principals of your art. I wish I was a photographer, so I could follow this.

    Liked by 1 person

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