Drawing with light

After coming to grips with low light people pictures using small sensor cameras, and taking some time to experiment with monochrome portrait composition, I wanted to turn back to nature photography to see if any of the new ideas I picked up would work in that setting.

Two things I have been trying to keep at the front of my mind while setting exposure and framing pictures are the concepts of “drawing with light” and the need to match the background or foreground context to the expression I’m trying to capture.

For portraits, it is literally a particular expression on the subject of the photo that I’m trying catch. In the case of nature photography, it seems to translate best to positioning the components of the image in a way that matches the mood or emotion I’m trying to represent.
This rephrases something a Japanese street photographer, Junku Nishimura, said during an interview about his process. He was answering a question about how he knows when he likes a photo or not when he stated these three things.
  1. It is all about the expression of people and the mood.
  2. The light.
  3. The background.
After seeing the TED presentation by Sebastião Salgado recently, I was particularly impressed with how he puts his own characteristic signature on each of his works. Even after transitioning from socially conscious photos of people in extreme situations around the world, to the interaction of humans with the natural ecosystems that spawned our species, his photos are still uniquely recognizable. His narrative is carried by a powerful visual language that he seems to have invented and which he uses very effectively.
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