As a photographer, as any photographer would, I spend a great deal of my time looking at the works of others. It’s very easy to get caught up in the eye candy: HDR, the camera tricks and so on. You can spend hours on Flickr or 500px with stuff you simply can’t figure out. One would think the photos that are beyond imagination – those without a viable explanation – that would last in your memory. But you’d be wrong. At the end of the day, the photo that really captures my eye is the often the simplest. Occam’s Razor. This past week, the photo that captured my eye was Pier by Peter von Seth. It’s not a complicated photo but it reminds me of the most important lesson I ever learned as a photographer: Photography IS Light.
Aptly named, Peter’s photo, Pier, is a photograph of…well…a pier. The pier and the photo is lit by a fairly typical nautical pole with two luminaries mounted at different heights. The taller light creates a nice soft glow in the water and is the cause for a lot of the flare into the camera’s lens. In black & white, which was a good choice for this photograph, the effect is pretty stunning. In color, the misty sea air would split the light rays into the color spectrum, an effect that I feel ruins the aesthetics of a shot like this. The lower luminaire is low enough to cause a shallow pavement grazing light that renders the wet stone so dramatically. Light must graze a surface to show off its texture. A perpendicular light would be almost devoid of dramatic shadows and it would look dull and flat. I’m sure Peter is thankful to find such a low grazing light to pull the detail out of these stones.
Now Pier is a simple, dramatic composition, but it is incredibly captivating. The soft glow of light and the vertically highlighted pole sitting right at the terminus of the pier serves well to pull us into the shot. But take a moment and think deeply about this photo. What is the subject? Is it really the pier? What if the light was sourced from a different location, would the stones look as well defined? What if the taller light was not bright enough to cast into the water, would we know the water was even there? Would the edges of the pier pop out from silky smooth water surface below? What if this were captured in daylight and any and all detail would revealed as a flat, boring composition?
In short, this fantastic photograph would be nothing if it weren’t for the light in all its depth and dynamics. No photo would be anything without light. This photograph serves as a reminder of that fact.
Peter von Seth’s work can of course be found on Flickr where he also contributes to the Shutter Photo @ Flickr group. If you would like to see more of Peter’s great dramatic works, you can also find it on his personal website, thatspeter. Peter uses light in dramatic and interesting ways throughout the body of his work. You would do well to follow him and his work.