The Magic of Light

The further I travel down the photography rabbit hole, the more light fascinates me.  When I started as a photographer I shot landscapes, and like many others, I scheduled my shoots to nail the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.  When I was focused on portraiture, I used off camera lighting extensively to create whatever look I or the client felt was appropriate for the image.  Both of these genres, however, were still subject driven for me:  the epic vista, the beautiful model, it was all about finding my subject first and then working light into the scene.

I would say that 90% of my photography is now candid in nature, with the majority of that being wedding and street photography.  While it goes without saying that at weddings the subject and the moment are the most important things to capture (aided by amazing light whenever possible), it is also true that more and more I am finding that the rest of my photography is driven by light these days.  I am enthralled with the way light sculpts a subject, with the shadows that it creates, with its colour and texture and with the depth it can bring to an image.

Light can tell a story all by itself.

When I teach, I find the number one request from my students is to learn how to see light better when they are composing a candid image.  I love the “ah-ha” moment that comes when a student really see light for the first time, when they learn how to incorporate it into their compositions, or when they realize how amazing shadows can be.  I think it is analogous to how an emerging portrait photographer learns how to light a subject:  at first new photographers often go overboard, nuking their subjects and eliminating all shadows, but with practice they learn how to shape the light, direct the light, and how to use the light to create shape and nuance in an image.  I love this quote from John Loengard, a picture editor at Life magazine, who once said:

”If you want something to look more interesting,

don’t light all of it.”

I think this quote is the key to successfully telling stories through the use of light.  Great light draws the eye and gives shape and depth to a photograph.  It is a language that can be learned.

Here is a short photo essay of images that exist because I saw the light first.  Some I have posted before in other essays, many are new, but all exist because of the light.  These images were taken exclusively with Fujifilm X series cameras (The X-Pro2 and the X100F), using the Classic Chrome and Acros film simulations.  The combination of beautiful light and Fuji colours is amazing.  I just love it.

One final comment:   I recently took a hiatus from writing for a few weeks, despite the fact that I have several articles in draft mode including new Los Angeles street photography posts, new wedding photography and some more thoughts on the Fujifilm X100F.  I found myself, however, experiencing a malaise with my writing.  When these artistic lulls hit I find there are two approaches you can take:  you can either push through and shoot like crazy (hoping for a breakthrough), or you can take a break and refocus your creative energy on other tasks.  I chose to take the latter approach with my writing this month and I am so happy that I did.  I am refreshed now, inspired, and looking forward to sharing a lot of new content with you over the summer (including some tips from my workshops on working with light in the candid setting).

Stay tuned!



15 thoughts on “The Magic of Light

  1. Joshua Simmons says:

    A beautiful, vulnerable and well timed article, my friend. I am still learning how to see the light and find that now it has become a thrilling hunt. Whenever I am out and about there is a certain rush of emotion as I read the light and view its angles. To the hunt!

    • Ian says:

      I agree completely. When I am traveling now, and when I am teaching my workshops, I care far less about where I am and far more about what the light looks like. There is always a photograph to be made when the light is beautiful.

  2. andykidd says:

    Yes good comments on light and we never stop learning because it is never ever the same. Often what is in the shadows asks the questions. Cheers Andy 🙂

  3. Peter Morris says:

    Another very well written article Ian, with some great photos too. I have started myself to explore this concept, it is very satisfying when you get the shots you’re after!

    I am now tending to use the Classic Chrome setting almost exclusively for these urban shots, seems to produce great contrast between the light and shadows. Looking forward now to what else you may be posting for us.

    Cheers, Peter

    • Ian says:

      I find that Classic Chrome, with the right light, renders extremely close to the look I have in my head for my colour images. It’s beautiful. 👍

      Many thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.



  4. jr050680 says:

    The key to this whole, very well-written, piece of text is in the shadow part.
    Seclusion, absence, longing. Strong feelings in a human mind that easily translate into images. When you shape light by surrounding it with nothing (shadow), you leave it to the beholder to fill in the context of the light. And thats when the image gets interesting.

    Great article Ian. And you know I love your photography that comes with it. Great stuff my friend!

    • Ian says:

      Such a great post Jonas. I truly believe photographers reach that “next level” when they learn how to see and wrangle light.

    • Ian says:


      I tend to keep my tone curve fairly flat in camera, then boost my shadows and highlights in post.

      If you are looking for great in camera settings though definitely check out my friend Kevin Mullin’s articles on setting up his Fuji cameras. Great stuff.



  5. joaquin48 says:

    Yes, Ian I am totally agree with you that if you want to see the magic in how light is presenting its self to you, you then can see indeed the magic of life its self… 🙋😉👏

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