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Why Light Is the Key Element in Photography

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In this chapter from Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots, 2nd Edition, Laurie S. Excell discusses the quality and quantity of light, direction of light, and exposure compensation.
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ISO 100 • 1/90 sec. • f/11 • 55mm

Light Is the Key Element in Photography

  • “Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects. The object is nothing, light is everything.”
  • —Leonard Missone

Without light, there would be no photographs. In fact, the word “photography” means painting with light. Light has quality, quantity, color, and direction, which provide shape, texture, and character to your images. There is a reason that I get up at o’dark thirty while most of the world is still tucked snugly in their warm beds. I drive in the predawn hours to arrive at a location that is cloaked in darkness. I set up my camera in the dark, using a flashlight to make sure my ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are adjusted to my liking as I prepare to make my first image of the day. It’s up to me to choose the best setting to enhance the quality of light.

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