Thursday, February 12, 2015



Luminosity is a result of the application of light to a subject or scene. Artists are aware - consciously or sub-conciously - of luminosity in producing their works of art. A painting or photograph will appear dull or flat if the artist does not actively introduce light that results in a luminous work of art. The old European masters of painting became exceedingly adept at creating luminous works of art, making them radiant, resplendent, gleaming and lifelike.
Being a photographer I will continue this discussion from the viewpoint of fine art photography. As photographers we learn from practice and experience to "see" a scene or object that is illuminated by extraordinary light. That light may be natural or manmade and we use each in different circumstances. 
In outdoor photography we learn that more often than not, natural light is most pleasing in early morning or late afternoon. But that is not the only situation for an expressive photograph. Sometimes the outdoor light can be harsh, moody or even scary as in an approaching storm. In any case the photographer must understand the characteristics of the light he is witnessing in order to capture it as the first step in producing a fine art photograph. The important characteristics of light for this purpose are intensity, color, direction, and dynamic range. It is often the case that a scene of great interest to a fine art photographer is not adequately illuminated to fulfill his vision of the photograph he wishes to produce. In this situation he has 2 choices: Modify the light or return to the scene when the natural light is more to his liking. In the photograph immediately below I was "in the right place at the right time". This location is known to many Oregonians. It is the Painted Hills in the John Day National Monument. I am very familiar with the Painted Hills and have seen many photographs and paintings of them. This photograph is an example of "soft" natural light in late afternoon shortly before sunset. The photograph in this light would be described as "warm". The light is not intense or harsh but soft and pleasing. The light is directed from the right (west) and beautifully illuminates the main area of the hills while still producing shadows that complement the overall scene. The snow creates a unique view of the hills that I had never before seen.

Example of subject photographed in soft light
The next image shows an example of harsh light. I made this photograph on a very hot day in southern Utah. It was near a small town that was settled by Mormans in the late 19th century. It is now mostly a ghost town. The graves in this family cemetery are those of a whole family that was massacred by indians in the territory. The title of my photograph is "Harsh Reality". I made this photograph at high noon in this harsh environment. The light was directed from directly overhead, resulting in almost no shadows. My vision was to use this harsh light to show something of life in a very harsh environment and what resulted from living there.

Example of subject photographed in harsh light
The next image was made in my studio using man-made light, which can take a variety of forms. Here I show both the color and black & white (Palladium) versions of the photograph. I wanted this photograph to show only the iris blossom with its beautiful color,  intricate detail and wonderful range of tones, and exclude any background distractions. I chose the light source based on the fact that I was making a color photograph. As mentioned above, light can have different color characteristics depending on the source of the light. For example, an incandescent lamp will give an overall orange color cast to the image. A flourescent lamp will turn the photograph green, and a photo blue lamp produces light equivalent to outdoor daylight on a bright day. The blue lamp, which I used for this photograph renders accurate color of the subject. 
One of the benefits of studio photography is the ability to control the light in almost any way I see fit.
This includes color, intensity, direction and placement of any reflecting objects I might choose to use to direct the light where I want it.Another benefit of studio photography is the capability to "Paint" with light. Photograph is derived from the Greek Photos (light) and Graphis (draw). When I paint with light I can
physically direct the chosen light source onto the subject in a manner that satisfies my vision and produces an artistic result. In this case I darkened the studio, set the camera for a long exposure (about 12 seconds) and waved the magic wand (the light source) all around the subject, as I initially wanted uniform lighting to show the color and detail in this beautiful flower (which I snitched from Gayle's flower garden). I was careful not to illuminate the black background.
Example of subject painted with light
Just below is the black & white version of the flower. This is a thumbnail of the Palladium print I made (Palladium is a printing process invented about 150 years ago). If you could see the actual Palladium print (16 X 20) I think you would marvel at the detail and wonderful range of tones. 

         The final image below was made by painting with light but I directed the light from one side to produce a sidelit image.  
Example of subject painted with light
  Of course there is much more to be said about the intricancies of lighting and luminosity, but I hope this short discertation on the subject provides you some insight to the importance of light in art.         
Example of sidelit image painted with light

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