Where would we be without light? In the dark of course. If you believe The Bible’s interpretation of creation, then light was the third thing that God created, after the heaven and the earth. Light is also one of a photographer’s greatest assets. Without light, there would be nothing to photograph, but the effect light has on a photograph stretches far beyond simple illumination.
Take a look at my art photograph above, which I’ve simply entitled “Jetty”. It’s a monochrome print, meaning that one of the other main tools in a photographer’s arsenal – colour – has been removed. So what’s fascinating about this picture? For me, it’s the influence that light has over the composition. Notice the contrast over the lake, and how the lines and ripples are emphasised by brightness. I purposely composed this photographic art print so the post in the middle of the photograph becomes the central focal point. The lines drawn by the side of the jetty – which are solidified by the shadows projected from them – lead off into the distance, and the way the light works seems to make them glow, even as the line continues onwards across the lake. I’m not quite sure why, but this seems to give the photograph a slightly ghostly feel. I actually removed the colour from this print in post-production. The original colour photograph was of a crisp and bright sunny day. Remove the colour and adjust the light and you end up with something altogether more eerie.
Another of my inspirational photography heroes, George Eastman, loved to play with light. He said:
Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
George Eastman was a genuine photography pioneer, and lived in New York City from his birth in 1854, until his death in 1932. He founded a small company whom you may have heard of, called Kodak. His intention was to bring photography to the mainstream by producing roll film instead of individual photographic plates. His innovation also paved the way for motion pictures.
Sadly, George Eastman had quite a tragic life. His father died when Eastman was but eight years old, and he was forced to abandon his education at 14 to provide for the family. One of Eastman’s sisters suffered from polio and died when Eastman was 16. He founded Kodak in 1880, inventing a camera that held 100 exposures on a single roll of film. Users of the camera returned it to Kodak once all 100 had been used, and Kodak returned the developed photographs back to their customers. In 1900 Kodak released the Brownie camera, intended for hobbyists and children as the camera retailed at one dollar.
Eastman was an exceptionally generous man, and always made sure his employees were well taken care of. It’s estimated that Eastman contributed more than $100 million of his personal wealth to philanthropic causes during his lifetime, which is a remarkable sum when you consider the era in which he lived.
The tragedy that blighted Eastman’s early life returned in his later years. Always an active person, Eastman began to suffer from crippling diabetes, and a degenerative condition that involved a hardening of his spine. On March 14, 1932, aged 77, Eastman took his own life. He left a note that said “My work is done. Why wait?”
So, the next time you take out your camera to take a quick snapshot, remember you have George Eastman to thank for it.
“Jetty” is dedicated to the memory of George Eastman.