Learning to See the Light

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Chiaroscuro, as Italian Renaissance painters once called it, is the use of differing contrasts of light to achieve a sense of three dimensionality within a two dimensional frame.

Light has four major qualities including color, quality, quantity and direction. As photographers seeking to master the art of exposure, seeing light is the key to mastering the art of proper exposure. Notice I said art.

Learning to see light is not difficult but takes practice. That practice should take the form of not only constantly making new images but also taking the time to analyze those photographs after you’ve created them.

Part of learning to seeing the light isn’t just looking at what you think the subject of your photograph might be. I think it’s really about the light, but that’s a post for another time. Instead look at the shadows and highlights in the scene you’re about to photograph, keeping in mind that the difference between the two determines the it’s contrast.

How I made this shot: It was made in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico around midnight; the car’s hood in the foreground I think belongs to a Honda Accord. Camera used was an Olympus E-3 DSLR with 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 lens and a handheld exposure of 1.3 seconds at f/11 and ISO 800, thanks to the camera’s in-body stabilization.

The other part of making consistent and correct digital exposures is understanding the technology that is inherent in the process and the other part is learning how to see the light, a tired cliché that is nevertheless true whether you’re using the newest DSLR, mirrorless camera or a pinhole camera.

If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat Joe to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here. And if you do, thank you.


Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photograph that features the above image on the cover. While several years old, new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 with used copies starting at four bucks. For some reason, the Kindle price is really high.