Merriam Webster defines photography as; The art or process of producing an image(s) by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface such as film or optical sensor. Take a moment and think about that definition. Would you have or do you define photography in that manner? When you go out and take a photograph is that what your are setting out to do? Are you thinking that photograph in terms of capturing light? For me I know that light the most important part of the art but I guess I did not think of it as capturing light.
If your like most people, myself included, I would think of photography as the capturing of a scene that evokes an emotion or response by the viewer. But the logic is in front of you. It is all about the light. The light that is defused, direct, in the shadows and high lights. It is the way we control it on the film or sensor to the final print that makes or breaks the photograph. Light is to the photographer like paint is to the painter. It is our tool our medium that we must master in order to create the photograph we want.
Light is malleable. There are ways to shape the light by using diffusers, gobos, reflectors, and fill light. This is done a lot in portraits in order to create a pleasing final portrait. But this was not done only in photography. In fact the really good photographers understood this and looked to the master portrait painters to learn how to create a great portrait.
If you study the portrait painters of the baroque aria, like Rembrandt, you notice the use of lights and darks. The careful use of light that shows detail in the shadows and highlights. How light is manipulated to give depth to the subject(s) and the surrounds. That is what a good portrait photographer tries to do. Although the subjects and surroundings have changed, the strategies are still the same. Create a lighting situations by manipulating the light around them to create a pleasing portraits.
Light can be also natural or not manipulated. Landscape, nature or any photographer that photographs large areas. But instead of manipulating the light they wait for it. The circumstance of being at the right place at the right time is not played out with this type of photographer. Instead they study the area, waiting patiently for the right light that they can use. Once they understand their subject this photographer breaks down the light in to an exposure that would best fit what they are creating. Through this exposure the photographer either develops the film accordingly or manipulates it in a program like Lightroom, PhotoShop, or the many others to create the print that expresses their interpretation of the subject.
In either case the photographer is taking in all the light and manipulating it through exposure or tools of the trade to arrive to an end product that pleases them. They are painting with light much like the masters of old used their paints. But unlike the Masters the photographer of today we have many mediums in which to place that image on or with.
For the most part I see, and participated, the placement of images on the internet. The internet for its part is a medium that can be viral but not the best way to reproduce your image. There are many factors that can make your image look very poor. One would be the monitor. Not every ones monitor is color correct or of the higher quality to adequately reproduce your image. Image size also comes to mind. For most monitors all you see at best is a fifteen inch high image of your work. Because of lower resolutions the reproduction of the work can look pixilated, soft, dark or light but never at its best.
Prints are the best way to truly experience photograph and this is where you can get lost in how you want it printed. You have choices of photographic paper, inkjet prints on different types of paper, metal, metal like paper, cardstock, mugs and many others. For me large prints are the best and that is again where good photographer comes into play. See the larger the print, the more the flaws come out. If the image resolution is too low, image too soft, not clean or over processed all that comes out in a big print. As a photographer you must know and understand this. You must be able to create a photo, manipulate it to be able to print it in any size you want. Blow any of the steps to create a good photograph and the end produce will disappoint
Being a photographer is to paint with light. To understand light and use the tools at your hand to create the image you want. Being a photographer takes patients and vision to see your subject in a final product. To be a photographer you must shoot a lot of photographs in order to grow, you must be willing to fail at an image in order to succeed in the end. Being a photographer isn’t about the equipment you collect or the price you pay, its about understanding your tools and using them to the fullest in order to get the image you want. Being a photographer is always being fascinated by the light and ways to paint with it. Because that is what we do. Some very well and others not so.