So often, we find ourselves looking for and focusing on subjects to photograph that we often forget the one essential beauty of every photograph: Light. My mentor used to try to beat that concept when she would constantly say (and she probably was quoting someone): “Look for the light: The rest of your composition will follow.” What is a photograph without light, after all? For that matter, when will you find a subject so interesting that more interesting lighting won’t improve the photo? And so this week I would like to introduce you to the appropriately titled photograph, It’s All About Light! by photographer Reina Smallenbroek (aka: Reintjedevos). This is the first time in a great long while that I didn’t find the need for a secondary title for this feature. I think the photo’s title also illustrates my reason for sharing the photo, because it really is all about light.
Reina’s photo is a classic example of a vanishing point photo that features a nice allée of trees and finished off with a bit of fog. The allée is fantastic and looks like something out of my History of Landscape Architecture book (unless it’s your field of study, it’s not a book I’d recommend, but the photos are nice). The fog serves a very key purpose here: It obscures the destination. In truth, we don’t know really how the trees carry on. Perhaps the road turns, perhaps it comes to a dead end, but the fog helps to create the illusion that the road and the allée carries on indefinitely. All that would make for an okay photograph. But we don’t feature photos that are just okay. So what really makes this photograph great? In case you haven’t been paying attention: It’s the light.
When you’re studying about artificial lighting techniques for photography, one of the key elements is directionality. This is a very important concept as the direction of the light – or more important, the location of the light source – really changes the perception of the subject. In It’s All About Light!, the light is hard light low and from the far left. This is typical of post-sunrise or pre-sunset light, and the directionality is truly the reason both times of day are so widely coveted. As for Reina’s photograph, it adds a lot of depth to the scene. It hightlights the edges of the trees to help define their shape, it brightens up the patches of grass that outline the road and it gives the fog its characteristic glow. Fog is sometimes difficult to truly understand, so I’m going to dwell on this for a moment. Fog is basically tiny water particles floating in the air…did I say water particles? I meant prisms. It splits the light and sends it in all directions. In this case, the fog is not very dense, and so side light helps to give it a voluminous appearance.
Now, lets focus on the trees. Reina could have easily approached the same allée of trees from the opposite direction and the trees would have each been more aglow with light. The result would certainly have been brighter and more inviting. But I don’t suspect that was her intent. Perhaps Reina considered the opposite perspective, maybe even took a few shots and rejected them in favor of the chosen angle. After all, with just the edge highlighted and most of each tree in utter darkness, the effect is downright creepy. The fog only helps to enhance the overall effect. Finally, Reina’s choice to use black & white processing brings it all together. This shot really is all about the light. It’s a study of shapes defined by light, and Reina has composed them in a manner that cannot be improved upon.
Reina Smallenbroek dabbles in several different aspects of photography, and she is equally skilled in all. But I find that her landscapes are among the most inspirational and most mesmerizing. If you would like to see more of Reina’s work, I would suggest that you wander over to her space on Flickr.