Color of Light

All three of these photos suck but I’m using them not for their content but for other reasons. First, most of the images I make pretty much suck, so these are a good “case in point.” The top one I thought was going to be gangbusters, but the sky just wasn’t working for me. The middle image was about motion but I just didn’t get enough, and the final image was made in an attempt to time someone out on the rock, someone who was using a strobe. I was trying to time it with a long exposure to get their flash going off, which I did in other frames but missed entirely on this one. Oh well, life is evil and we all turn to dust. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s keep moving.

These images are here because of the color of the light.

But before we talk color of light I want you forget a few things.
Your education, your photography studies, your camera, your lens, your laptop, your software, your filter sets, your camera bag, your gadgets and gizmos, your pixel depth, your megapixels, your fluoride elements, your aperture, your shutter speed, your tripod, your camera tape, your hard drive, your calibration device, your thunderbolt plug, your monitor, your iPad, your iPhone, your blog, your Facebook page, your agent, your rep, your website, your career and for sh%$ sake please forget about “being a photographer” and “doing what you are supposed to do.” Okay, I’ll give you a few minutes to prepare.


You need to forget all those things because they just don’t matter unless you are in the right light.
Light. Let me say it again, “light.”

People ask me all kinds of strange photography questions, which is one reason why I love having a blog. Photography, at least to me, is a somewhat strange pursuit. You point a light tight box at something in an effort to preserve it or share it or put some HDR thing on it to make it look like something you puked up after eating too much fried food at the fair. We make photography seem complicated but it really isn’t, not at all. We’ve built an industry around it for some reason, and this further increases the complexity, but the actual photography part stays painfully simple. For me it can all be summed up in three things. Light, timing and composition, and those are in a very specific order. LIGHT, timing and composition.

These images were all made in basically the same spot. Yes, I was moving around and they are from different angles and distances but it is the same slab of rock and the same enormous hole. These images were also made, I’m guessing, within roughly the same hour. Yes light changes that fast and so does the COLOR OF THE LIGHT and here lies the point of this post. I get a lot of questions about gear, which in the long run really doesn’t mean much. Gear is romantic. The top forty photography sites, in terms of traffic, are all gear and technology related. A significant portion of the workshops I see being offered today are all gear related. I think the idea of things like light and timing and composition are REALLY getting overlooked these days. But, again, the reality is if you are not using the right light then you really aren’t being the photographer you could be, and it surely doesn’t matter what device you have in your hand. The vast majority of the time, when I’m in the field working, my entire agenda is dictated by the light. Seriously, I can’t stress it any more than that. The light dictates where I go, when I go and how long I’m there. I don’t work in high noon light unless something has gone wrong or I have no choice or unless something truly dramatic is happening and I HAVE to make pictures right then and there. I’ll sit in my car for eight hours in 110 degree heat….waiting for the light to get right. There is no other way. My shooting is like a cage fight, months of training, months of hype and then three rounds of all out effort. Sometimes I get knocked out and other times I do some damage. I’m a 50/50 fighter at best, even with the light working for me.

Near my house in California is a protected waterway that birds really dig. Where there are birds there are birding photographers, and this place is no exception. They have camouflage trucks. They wear camouflage clothes. They all have Canon 600mm lenses….wrapped in camouflage. They have tripods…wrapped in camouflage. And….they all go out to shoot at HIGH NOON. I’ve never understood this. Standing in the blazing sun and cooking down the buffer on their 1DS Mark III’s. Don’t they look at good birding photography? Don’t they know that early morning and early evening give you not only direction of light but also COLOR OF LIGHT? These guys are like quantum physics, yes I know they exist but I have no understanding of them.

These Grand Canyon images illustrate color of light. Going in reverse order, the bottom image was shot first and just LOOK at how blue that light is. The middle image is moments before sunrise and the light is shifting, a middle ground of warm edges, white center light and a soul that is still blue. And the third image, the top one, is shortly after sunrise and yellow/red is now the statement being made. Within minutes in the desert environment the light will be gone, and when I say gone I mean virtually unusable. When I worked in Arizona it was the 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM rule of might as well go take a nap during these hours.

I see a fair number of portfolios and the photographer will begin showing me work made in horrible light. They will begin telling me about the equipment used, their philosophy and their desire to get a show or book. All I see is imagery made by someone with zero understand of light.

So, next time you venture out on a photo expedition take one last look at that clock. Go earlier, go later, look for clouds, look for rain or anything else that will add color or drama to the light. Good luck.


I knew I was in another world when someone called my rental car a “wicked pissa.”

Maine is a little different, and I think the locals are just fine with that.

Through the gaps in the dense woods, the Atlantic flashes like a movie reel in your mind, all powerful, foreboding. The rock, land and water are somewhat harsh but the sum translates to pure beauty.

Cliche doesn’t cover the view even when you catch yourself standing there and saying, “Gee, that looks just like a postcard.”

We have timed it right, early spring, before the hordes arrive in search of the lobster roll and precious sun for their winter skin.
The beaches are empty, and on the morning run barely a car passes.

If there is a more beautiful place in our eastern region, I’m not sure where it might be.

Maine is rife with history, culture and old, wooden things bleached by the sun and snow.

This is a place where staring in silence is commonplace.

Color for Color

What could be better than just walking about with a camera? Okay, walking around with a camera with a winning lotto ticket in your pocket? Ya, that sounds good to me. I don’t shoot color that much, at least when it comes to documentary work, but I’ve started to more. I used to shoot color all the time, and it fact shot nothing but for years. I started with color, and am glad I did. But I have to say, much work I see is shot in color for the sake of shooting color because, “that is what people want,” or so we have been told. But I’m not so sure.
I think if you are going to shoot color, shoot for the COLOR, not because that is the default setting.
If your shooting at noon, in horrific light, who cares? I think the newspaper world missed the boat on this. Back in the 80’s we were told the readership was “too sophisticated” for black and white and “demanded” color.
That’s odd, in my time working at newspaper I heard a constant stream of people telling me, “I miss black and white, why don’t you guys run it anymore.”
Makes you wonder who makes these decisions.
So here is a little color.

Color Balance Lens


Okay, occasionally something comes along that makes my life easier. Not often mind you, especially in today’s world of gadgets where we THINK we are making things easier only to realize we still haven’t figured out how to set the timer on our VCR, our now obsolete VCR.
Sometime last year, thanks to an old friend in Los Angeles, I was given one of these babies to play with, to experiment with, and being a typical photographer set in my ways, I just left it in my camera bag.
Well, about six weeks later, while shooting, I looked down and saw this beast tucked away in an outside pocket. I felt bad. The person who loaned me this is a really great guy and I thought to myself, “Use it, test it, and send him a report.”
So I did.
I now have a new favorite tool for the “front end” of my workflow, at least when I am shooting digital. Color balance is not romantic, not flashy, not really that interesting, and for the most part is rarely spoken about in the photography world. We love cameras, and in most cases photographers think that their day begins with loading that first card, setting the camera to auto white balance, focusing and snapping that first frame, and for many, I’m learning, that is how it does begin.
But, but, but, just hold those horses for one minute. I was guilty of this as well, for a long time, but now I have a little secret that I use BEFORE I fire that first frame.
The “Color Balance Lens” or “CBL” was designed and manufactured in Korea, and in short, I know how it works, but even if I didn’t it wouldn’t matter. What is important is that it DOES work.
In short, you place the CBL in the light falling on what you are photographing and you then photograph the CBL as it fills about 75% of your viewfinder. I then hit the “Custom White Balance” menu option on my Canon 5D and it asks, “Is this the image you want to use for your white balance?” I hit “yes,” and boom I’m off to the races.
This disc measures the color spectrum and creates a “recipe” for color that my camera understands, and man o man you can’t believe the difference.
On my first shoot I did half with and half without the CBL and just looking at thumbnails you could see a HUGE difference. I don’t shoot digital anymore without first using the CBL.
This is not to say you are not going to make adjustments in your post-production, but your starting point is so much better than what you get by allowing the camera to figure things out.
What is interesting is that I have spoken to many photographers about this and the range of acceptance has been varied. Many photographers respond, “I don’t need it, I shoot RAW.” It has nothing to do with RAW, and I only shoot RAW as well. Digital post-production is about time and efficiency, and this tool allows you to be more productive, more efficient and saves you loads of time. One photographer said, “I never need to color correct because my eyes are so good.” That was stunner, and I wish I had their eyes, although I have to say, I’m somewhat skeptical of that remark.
There are many ways to get to from point A to point B, but this one, to me, is the best I have seen.
Often times when I hear photographers speak of their field practices there is a feeling of “I’ll fix it in post,” which always makes me scratch my head. Not that I don’t’ LOVE scratching my head, but perhaps what makes the most sense is to make the BEST possible image in the field so that you have to spend the LEAST amount of time in post? The CBL is a great first step. Check it out. I’ve put a before and after sample to show you what I’m talking about.