Sunday, 6 March 2011

Good Light?

I read an article in a magazine recently in which the author challenged the assertion that there is such a thing as 'good light' for photography. Essentially, his argument was that there is only 'different' light. In making his case, he mentioned a book written by an unnamed, well known photographer which, he said, had initially misled him to believe that 'good light' was all important. I found myself wondering whether he was referring to Joe Cornish's book 'First Light'. If that was the case then I suggest he re-reads the book because I think he's missed Joe's point entirely. That said, is he right?

There is no doubt that the well established principle that photographs (in particular, landscape photographs) benefit from the 'golden hours' - those periods around sunrise and sunset. It also cannot be argued that the dramatic lighting often seen as storms are breaking or clearing can make for an equally dramatic image. But, is he right - is all light good for something?

During half term, we were invited to spend a few days with friends in their holiday home in Anglesey. One of them is also a keen photographer so we made plans to go out for sunrise on the first morning. As we set out, I suspected we were in for a disappointing morning as there was heavy cloud cover and a strong, biting wind to contend with. Our intention had been to photograph at one of the many lovely bays to be found on the northern coast of the island but it quickly became clear that wasn't going to be worthwhile so we instead headed down to Moelfre harbour - a location that has worked well for me previously (see below).

On this occasion, however, the conditions were far from favourable so we decided to move on again, concluding that there was little hope of a decent photographic session and we might as well look for future locations. With this in mind, we headed over to the headland near Point Lynas and explored a little. The photograph below is the only exposure I made that morning. It was hand held (I couldn't be bothered setting my tripod up) and, consequently, lacks depth of field. It is no more than a record of the scene for future reference.

So, I would say that, on this particular morning, the light wasn't good for photography. It might not look so bad from the image above but that has been tweaked a little to give it some life. It was, without question, a miserable morning.

I wouldn't say his argument isn't without merit though. If I was to take it literally (as I think he possibly did in relation to the book he mentions), I would have to disagree. However, I think what he was really trying to say was that we shouldn't ignore the possibilities which exist even in non-dramatic light and that some subjects actually work better in those conditions. In this, he is absolutely right.

The following pictures were all made in bright but overcast conditions later that day. Not grim lighting as we'd experienced first thing.

 In each case, the scene would have been less effective had it been lit by direct sunlight. It is very true that different subjects benefit from different lighting. It is also true that different light can create a very different mood in an image. The pictures below were taken from the same spot, at the same time of day, one day apart. They make for an interesting comparison but it's up to you, the viewer, to decide which has the greater impact on you - and that's the beauty of photography!


  1. Great post! Interesting about light.

  2. Lighting does have a lot to do with the quality of photos and I just love your work Phil. I just use a lowly point and shoot but still love taking pictures.
    To answer your question about New York and the street. I'm afraid I don't have a clue where we were. We were on a tour and I was shooting from the top of the moving double decker bus. Since there is a banner that says museum perhaps that will help you. I adore New York and really wish we could get back there. The photo ops are tremendous.

  3. Thanks both.

    I think I mispelt the street name - I think it should be Greene Street. It just looks so familiar but then I love New York too. :)