Tyler’s Tips Episode 28: What is good light?


Welcome to Tyler’s tips. Today, I’m going to deconstruct the idea of good light. Okay. We often talk about light as good or bad and I don’t think that’s helpful, and I’m guilty of it too by the way. I always talk about it this way. Well, I think the issue with this is that light is just a tool, is one of the many tools that we have to articulate ideas and to do things in photography, but it’s not inherently good or bad even though we kind of sometimes think of it that way. Here’s why, in my opinion. When we feel compelled to say, “Wow, that light is so good.” Or, “That light is amazing.” I think what we’re actually experiencing is the interaction of the light, and the thing that we’re looking at, and the idea that we are kind of receiving from this, the emotion that’s coming out of it.

That interplay between all of those things is working really well in harmony, and we experience that as good light. Often in that situation, I think the light is probably playing a larger role maybe than some of the other components in that dance. But it really is a dance. It’s a mix of all these things even though we tend to really hone in on the light. The same is true if it’s bad. I think what we referred to as bad light is really light that’s just … it’s fighting the idea that we’re trying to get out of that subject whether we’re looking at a photo or we’re looking at something in the real world. I think that’s a better way, a more useful way, to look at light.

The reason I think it’s more useful is because it leads us to really thinking about it. Saying light is just good or bad, doesn’t really tell us anything. But if we can dig in and try to understand why light is working well or why it’s maybe not working well and what is it that we want it to do, and we start exploring all these questions around it, then we begin to be able to quantify what’s going on and then make changes to make it better. Here’s my deconstruction of good light. I just don’t think it exists. I think light can be good for telling an idea or articulating idea over here, but that same light might be very bad in a different situation, and the reverse is also true. The light that’s bad over here, might be really good over here. Next time you’re out and about, here’s what I suggest you do. If you see light, if you see or you feel compelled to say, “Wow, that light is so good.” Ask yourself, “Why? Why does it seem so good?”

Then try to reverse it to the mental exercise of saying, “Okay, let’s imagine a scenario where this light that looks so good right now might be bad. Like what would be a subject that just would not work in this light?” Then also try the other when you’re out, and maybe you got your camera with you and you’re like, “Oh man, I would love to take this photo, but the light is so bad.” Think about it and say to yourself, “Why is it so bad? Why?” Because what’s really going on is that it’s not working for whatever you want it to do. It’s not helping. It’s fighting it so much that you don’t even want to take the photo, so why? Then going beyond that reversing this one as well and saying, “What would make this light work really well? Maybe what’s a different subject or a different idea that this light would bring the life, bring to life?”

There you are. Some ideas about how to understand light maybe a little bit of a different way and to dig a little bit deeper into it so that we can better use this tool to help make our photos more effective. As always, thank you for your time. I hope that was useful tip. If you have ideas or questions you’d like me to discuss in one of these little videos, drop me a line, and I’ll work it into a future episode. Till next time.