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It took me a few years to get here, but I think I’ve finally arrived at the notion that there is no such thing as shitty light. If you think about it, there’s a use for every kind and quality of light.
Hard Light At Noon
These guys are part of a training camp for boxers in Havana. They have tough workouts. Not in some air conditioned gym, but under the sun, on concrete, surrounded by buildings almost designed to amplify the light around them. Now imagine the heat and humidity of a tropical environment. It must be brutal for them.
Would you really want to wrap them in soft light?
Of course not. Their environment is gritty. Their work is tough. They’re dripping with sweat and their muscles are cut. That harsh, noon light that you avoid most of the time is perfect for these guys. It’s part of their environment. Putting them in the shade under a soft box would be disingenuous to their story.
You Wouldn’t Shoot A Model In Shitty Light
Why not put a bunch of models in shitty light?
Overcoming Lighting Hangups
There are too many times in the past where I’ve showed up to shoot and complained about the light. I know others have done the same because some of them were standing right beside me saying something similar. The truth is that there was nothing wrong with the light. We just had something in mind and didn’t know how to deal with the situation at hand.
On the other side of the coin, people who speak about the magical qualities of “natural light” are just as ignorant as I’ve been in the past. All light is natural. Some people just can’t grasp that concept. Light is light. The photons are the same if they come from the sun, a flash or if you strike a match. Whatever caused the photons is irrelevant. They exist because they’re part of nature. Artificial light would assume that we had something other than photons to use as a source.
My own hangups about light came from listening to others. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So the guy who shoots with a soft box has his hammer and the girl who shoots with sunlight has her hammer. You can make good or bad photos with either source.
The question isn’t what kind of light you have at your disposal, but whether you can find a way to work with the light you have. So spend some time walking around in shitty light and start making photos. Working with shitty light is one of the best educational experiences around for a photographer.