Thoughts: Existing Light

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I like to shoot with existing light.

At times, when I have a particular client who it going for a particular look, I need to drag out my photo lights and use them, but given my druthers, I almost always prefer shooting with the light God gives me.

There is, for me, something more real about existing light. There’s more energy in it. There’ s more drama, set up by the contrast of light and dark that artificial light, more times than not, erases.  There are stories in the real.

Oh, I know, we can create stories, magic, beauty, even something close to perfection with the right array of lights and software. I am in awe of fashion photographers for instance, and what they do – none of which has anything to do with real. It’s art, in my mind, even though many would argue that it’ s just commercial drivel. You try doing it. It’s hard.

But for me, I like the grit. I like the contrast. The hardness of light and dark and the flaws mingled with the beautiful.

I wasn’t always like that. I had a Pollyanna streak a mile long. I had big thick rose colored glasses on life and love and pretty much everything around me.

I pretended a lot. I pretended that things were good when they weren’t; that things were beautiful and wonderful when they weren’t.  It’s a common coping mechanism for those of us who had, shall we say,  less than a Donna Reed life. Families with alcoholism, abuse, abandonment often breed a brood of pretenders.

Part of that is that we are raised in a world of secrets. There’s a shame in having that brokeness go on in our family, whatever “that” is.  We’re told we can’t air our dirty laundry, a code word for we can’t talk to anyone and save ourselves.

We don’t like to admit the pain of it all, so we find our coping mechanism. Some withdraw. Some medicate it away with alcohol, drugs or some other addiction. Some withdraw completely.

And some, like me, pretend. That everything is OK.

I pretended pretty good for about fifty years. But reality has a way of breaking in on us sooner or later. It did for me, and I had to delve into reality to bring myself back from a brink. It was not easy. It was, at times painful.

In the process though, I gained a new appreciation for real and it’s amazing mix of broken and beautiful. Its humaness. Its real life drama and story.

Last night, I was going through some old pictures. I saw the progression. A decade ago, everything I shot was pretty.  There was perfection in the composition. I tweaked the flaws right out of the pictures.

Don’t get me wrong. I will say it again. I love the perfection and fantasy of other photographers who apply light and makeup and software to create their magic. Those old pictures were good. I’ve just come to a different place.

What I’ve learned is that the flaws highlight the beauty, makes me appreciate it more, and it is that contrast that is our world. A world worth capturing and remembering. So mostly, I put away the rose colored glasses these days. I leave fantasy to others. I pack away my lights.

Shooting with existing light is always a crap shoot. It changes from moment to moment. It’s uneven, sometimes harsh, sometimes flattering. There’s a lot of luck involved. But when you get the right shot, at the right time, it’s a different kind of magic. I am the historian, not the creator. It’s a collaborative between time, subject, light and photographer.

It takes less creativity, and more an awareness, a mindfulness of the moment, space and time to see, and capture, the magic.  I like that. It keeps me on my toes, aways awake. Always alert. Always seeing.

And for someone half blind for half his life, it’s a joyful discovery.

Be well. Travel wisely,



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