Ponderings about Light and Time
I spent some time last week at the New England Camera Club Conference. It is an energy filled event that keeps us photographers busy learning everything from improving our image creation skills to inspirational presentations from great photographers showcasing their work. Presentations by Wendell Phillips, Kathy Tarantola and Andre Gallant were my highlights this year
One topic that I hear over and over again about photography is that photography is about light. Great photography is about correctly capturing that light. People talk about the golden moment when the sun is at an angle where the images captured are spectacular; people talk about cloudy skies and using that time towards capturing the bright colors in flowers. People are making careers out of teaching flash techniques to modify light. I do agree that light is very important in creating great images.
I think however equally important in creating a great photograph to Light is Time. Time has so many dimensions in photography; I wonder why I don’t hear equally as often discussions about time.
First the obvious, one’s choice of shutter speed is so important in making great pictures. In photographing air shows for example, photographing an F16 flying by would certainly require not only fast response time, but also a very fast shutter speed. However at the same show, a prop based airplane would require a slow shutter speed to provide the necessary motion blur on the prop to make the image dynamic.
Less obvious is timing when to press the shutter. Picking that moment is critical. As Henri Cartier-Bresson called it, this is the decisive moment. We have to wait for that moment. Capturing a moment a few seconds later or earlier could determine the greatness of an image.
And then there is night photography, low light photography and photography using neutral density filters. All these techniques are to slow down time. Night photography, one of my favorite genres, allows us to see the effects of time over a long period. The camera sees so much more that we can with long exposures. Yes there is Light but there is also Time. Night photography integrates many moments and layers this effect on the image.
In our photography, we are also capturing Time. A moment in life. A moment that will not happen again. I think this is the big idea here. Photography is about collecting moments of life. A flower photographed today, will not be here tomorrow. A family portrait today will be different tomorrow. A great example of capturing time is Nicholas Nixon’s family portraits of the Brown Sisters. Here he captures time quite well for these sisters over the years.
I think it is here, in thinking about the Time we are capturing, where we truly tell a story about that moment. Yes, Light is important but with great Light and perfect Time that is what truly makes exceptional photographs.