My buddy (the ancient Greek, pre-socratic) philosopher Anaxagoras has some pretty fantastic atomic theories in philosophy. A basic concept is that everything is comprised of dark and light, and other opposites. The reason this was fascinating to me was this: the word “composition” literally means “what something is comprised of, or made of”. Therefore a photographic composition isn’t just lines, shapes, and forms (as Henri Cartier-Bresson believed it to be), but actually something deeper; the contents of a photograph, and why a photograph has power, dynamic emotions, and soul!
We mostly talk about dark and light, shadows and bright, in the context of “figure to ground“. Figure is the subject, and ground is the background.
For example study the below images and examples:
Apparently the birth of the universe was light. Remember the saying,
Let there be light!
Light is the birth of all life on earth. With light comes heat and warmth, energy, food, photosynthesis, and biogenesis.
Anyways light is essential to life. And photography means “writing with light”.
So as photographers, the camera is our pen. And the light is what makes our photos and images possible!
Generally speaking we can think about photography composition in terms of light and dark. We need both, or else we cannot make photos.
A photo that is pure light (all white) would have no meaning or significance. Even “high key” mostly white photos have some dark in it, to show the contours of the subjects.
Generally speaking to improve your composition, I recommend shooting super high contrast black and white. This technique is called “crushing the blacks“; shoot in RAW with black and white preview, and then increase the blacks slider in Lightroom to 100!
For ease of use, download free ERIC KIM PRESETS.
Minus exposure compensation
An easy way to adjust the light and dark in your photos is just to shoot in P(program) mode, and do -1 or -2 exposure compensation. This allows you to make the highlights (bright parts) of the photos look nicer. And you make the dark parts of the photos (the shadows) very dark! This makes for a more dynamic play and contrast between the light and darks of your photos:
Simple ways to manipulate light
- Shoot with a flash. Just use a simple pop-up flash on your camera (like on RICOH GR II) or the smallest external flash.
- Shoot at different times of the day. Shoot sunrise, noon, and sunset, and indoors.
- Shoot high contrast black and white to better understand the light.
- Exposure compensation: Play around with it!
Let your light shine!