Masters of Light

Lots of blog talk lately about what differentiates a pro from an amateur. If an image has what it takes, I don’t care who took it. Could be a top photographer or my Aunt Nellie: it’s a professional image. But on the over all career level, it’s usually the light that separates the pro from the am.

© Mikdam

Top career photographers have to consistently execute tough assignments. The best professional advertising and editorial photographers relentlessly meet challenges posed by demanding conditions and impossible deadlines. They work with the personalities of difficult clients whose jobs are riding on the success of multimillion-dollar accounts. Most of all they have to know how to create, manipulate and control or fake great light.

The single most important step you can take to push yourself further into the top pro category is to learn to control light and to recognize intuitively when NOT to shoot in natural light. Photography is painting with light. Without a strong understanding of light and the ability to manipulate, control or fake it, your images will always be hit and miss.

© Barsik

Whether you are just beginning to see the light or a top shooter, you’ll find

an excellent place to learn or refresh your skills at It’s from the blog The Strobist whose tagline says it all: LESS GEAR • MORE BRAIN • BETTER LIGHT.

© Chaoss

I learned about Strobist from Seattle photographer, Chase Jarvis. Chase is a smart guy that is terrific to work with. He brings back the shots (and more) every time. His images always have the edge that comes from a refined creative sensibility. I recommend checking out one of his behind the scene shoots at See Raw Ninja under videos to see how hard work, talent and fun add up to some incredible shots. And because Chase is pretty secure in his talent, he also gives you a chance to see 2000 shots from light tests, not so good shots as well as the six or seven winners in Frames Hasselblad also in his video section.

If there is one photographer that has earned the title of the Master of Light, it’s Gregory Heisler. I was lucky to tag along for a dinner with him years ago in Tokyo and later saw him speak at an ASMP lecture in LA. Speaking of gear: one of the things I remember was that he had some ordinary kinds of lamps in his bag of tricks. I remember a little booklight. About his equipment Heisler states on his blog: “I’ll work with any equipment that’ll get me excited, facilitate my creative process, not get in my way, and will best address the needs of the situation. It’s all about the light. Seeing it, creating, controlling it, and using it expressively.” Study his work.

Inspiration points:

Photo credits: Galina Barskaya, Chaoss, Mikael Damkier, Michael Pettigrew, Paulus Rusyanto.

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August 05, 2007


Inspiring article... :) Thanks for the links too!

August 05, 2007


Thanks for your helping hand again, Ellen. I love to dabble with the nuances of light, so every helpful idea brings my inspirational barometer to climb up.

Great blog!

August 04, 2007


Yes, photography is painting with light. You have to be aware all the time, that you can choose and influence the light. And with the light you can add a special mood, or a special spirit to any object or situation, even simple things.

August 04, 2007


Absolutely spot on with this one. I do NOT yet consider myself a professional, but I can feel myself pulling in that direction as I learn more and more to see light as my camera sees it and control it so that it will bring out the details or define the focal point or whatever I want it to do. I am still learning, but when I changed my focus from getting better gear to studying everything there is to know about light, I felt my photography step up to the next level. Thanks for the link. I found a new study location! ;)

August 03, 2007


Nice article - understanding lighting is the hardest part of photography. Thanks!

August 01, 2007


You are right Ellen, artificial light is not easy to master. Although it is not that complex in the end, if should be learned, otherwise results are poor.

But I see from your article that the blog editor is not easy enough, we would need a more powerful and easier to operate HTML editor. You just pasted links and they are not clikable. And maybe the edition window is too small too. Anyway I complain but blogs are great, and if I say they can be improved it is because they are used and useful. :)

August 01, 2007


ellen thanks for posting this. ironically i have been on a quest tonight to create some extra lighting accessories while i have a macro lens i have rented. this will be a help tomorrow i would say

July 31, 2007


Here's a tip for lighting on the cheap:

July 31, 2007


Thanks for the tips and links. Excellent article as well.

July 31, 2007


About natural light and nature photography, Dennis Gray also sets an example.

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