Photographer: Light isn’t everything, but…

Photographer Bryan Peterson writes:

Over the years, well-meaning photographers have stressed the importance of light or have even been so bold as to say that “light is everything.” This kind of teaching…has led many aspiring students astray over the years.
As far as I’m concerned, the light is the best possible frosting that you can put on the cake, but it has never been – and never will be – the cake.

So what is the cake?
According to Peterson, it is the creatively correct exposure – a combination of the right aperture, the right shutter speed and the right ISO.
I think it’s important to point out something else Peterson mentions in his book, “Understanding Exposure.” Light is important in any picture, and the best light often occurs early in the morning or in the late afternoon and early evening.
One other tip from Peterson: If you can’t get the exposure just right, it’s better to underexpose slightly – by up to three-quarters of a stop – than to overexpose. Once you overexpose a shot, you lose detail that you’ll never get back.
In the photos above, I experimented with exposure settings while taking pictures at Flagler College on Sept. 16. I found that shutter speed settings of 1/30th or 1/40th of a second worked best. In the photos with exposure speeds of 1/15th and 1/20th, you can see that some of the highlights in the background are blown out or overexposed. The difficulty was correctly exposing both shady foregrounds and sun-lit backgrounds. The camera’s automatic setting took its exposure reading from the shady foregrounds in most cases and wound up overexposing the photos even more, so it was clear that automatic wasn’t the best choice for this situation. The ISO was set to 100 for these photos.

6 thoughts on “Photographer: Light isn’t everything, but…

  1. Mike

    I agree – quality of light is important, but part of the craft of photography is using all of the tools available to us to get a good shot in a wide variety of lighting conditions.

  2. maninhavana Post author

    For more on photographer Brian Peterson, see his book, “Understanding Exposure.” I am reading it for the first time this year, and like it a lot.

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