What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Light

Apologies to Raymond Carver. Reposted from the early days of 50lux.com

Leica M9, 35mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX-M ASPH FLE

I think of the best stuff when I’m half asleep. It’s called hypnagogia and I’ve got a bad case of it. I’m not alone, apparently, as a New York Times article pointed out late last year and as Wikipedia establishes as encyclopedic fact.

Many other artists, writers, scientists and inventors — including Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton — have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity.

I’m intending to capture some of these fantastic creative thought processes that trot through my mind when I’m half asleep for the purpose of bringing them back alive and showing them to the world here on 50lux.com. It won’t be easy. Not many things are when you’re half asleep. Nature of the beast. More on all this later. But let’s start off with an example from today.

There’s nothing more annoying than some snobby-sounding photographer going on about Light. I chase after the Light. I live for the Light! I’m always out looking for the Light. I’m a Light chasing stalker of the Light.

Light, that fickle temptress, has taken out a restraining order on me!

You know the type. Butterflies and rainbows all around them. They shoot Leica but, of course, they could do just as well, maybe better, with a piece of cardboard and a tiny hole punched in it for a lens.

Never mind too the 14-year old future supermodels that seem to prance through lush meadows all around them, stopping only for the occasional extreme closeup on the sun-speckled perfection surrounding bee-stung lips.

What does any of that matter?, the light snob would say. It’s all about the Light!

Okay, let’s go there. Because as annoying as these people are, they just might be on to something. Pictures might lie, but not that much when it comes to the role of light making a great picture.

First let me say that my goal here, because I want to help myself to be a better photographer, is to learn along with anyone who happens to be reading this blog. So that some day, some glorious sunshiny day, we might all be just as annoying to others as these people are now to us.

It is important to have goals. Let’s get to work on achieving them.

Leica M9, 40mm 1.4 Voigtlander Nokton

Think of the world not as a place made up of things or solid objects to be photographed, but instead as a place where light exists.

You see what I’m talking about when I’m talking about half-asleep thoughts? Thank you and good night, ladies and gentlemen. Let me repeat it.

Think of the world not as a place made up of things or solid objects to be photographed, but instead as a place where light exists.

Because light in an infinite number of variations certainly does exist in this world. It shines down upon, through, wraps around, bounces off, backlights, highlights, dapples, washes over, peeks through, reflects off of, illuminates, obscures, virtually everything in this world and all of that enters into our consciousness, or DOESN’T, which is what we’re trying to correct here, through our eyes and through our lenses onto the plane of film or sensor we’re using to capture it all for posterity.

Light has so many different colors and shapes and effects upon whatever it touches or is near that it’s far beyond the scope of this blog post to even go into any of that. And it’s not important for the ideas that I’m trying to solidify in my own creative mind to try to address any of it at this time.

This post here on 50lux.com is more about what we all can maybe derive or benefit from in the form of an internal tweaking of our perspectives on light as it exists all around us and in our photography.

The important thing to keep in mind about light is that it can be as easily photographed, and as easily sought out as a subject to be photographed as a flower, a snow-capped mountain, a beautiful woman, or anything else that people almost instinctively point their cameras at before hitting the shutter release.

As you probably remember, like me, from reading it somewhere, whenever you take a picture, you really are only photographing reflected light anyway. Why not make a concerted effort on light’s behalf?

So now try it! Go out and, instead of looking to photograph mere things, solid or liquid objects of the Earth, as an ongoing exercise for your photographic eye and mind look past all that stuff and look only for light, wherever and in whatever form that you find it. Take pictures of that light. Make pictures from it.

Leica M9, 50mm f2 Summicron-M

If you’ve ever asked yourself or anyone else what’s the best way to radically change how you see as a photographer, then this is what I would suggest. Stop looking for and at everything around you as subject-objects, and instead allow yourself to look for and see only light.

Forever?, you might be asking. No. And then again, YES! Absolutely. Because we are talking about change here and hopefully permanent change. Some of us are always looking to change or open up our vision as photographers.

For now I suggest maybe working without your camera and going through your day looking past objects and people that you would normally focus your attention on and trying to see only the light and thinking about what you’re seeing wherever you do find light.

One of the first things you will discover is how incredibly easy this all is. You’ll be surprised. The change will be immediate. Your nose, as a photographer, will start to rise up into the uppity upper air involuntarily as you yourself become yet another annoying light snob. Phrases like I seek light wherever I can find it will roll off your tongue with the same highbrow snobbery of Grace Kelly in a 1950s Hitchcock film.

Go for the light and don’t come back empty handed!

Leica M9, 40mm 1.4 Voigtlander Nokton


  1. Donald,

    That first image of the flowers by the window is simply heavenly… it makes me feel as if I’ve walked into a dream…. which I guess is appropriate, given the topic.


    Peter | Prosophos.

    1. Thank you so much, Peter. Coming from such a brilliant photographer that compliment will stay with me forever. Thank you.


      1. More on that picture, Peter. That was taken at the Chin Chin restaurant in Brentwood CA after we’d finished eating. I remember moving the flowers into that little bit of light, and also having to brush away some food debris from our lunch, you know, because we like to THINK we’re good with chopsticks, but the table tells the tale when we’re done eating. 😉

        So I took a few shots and moved the flowers again, you know the routine, I’m sure. And I have a few that I’m thinking are pretty good compositions, but you know the display on the M9, it’s not very representative of the quality of the image. So then I get home and WOW…lol… I was taken aback by that frame. The 35’Lux ASPH FLE. Ultimately not the lens for me, but it sure produced a memorable shot this time.

        Anyway, thanks again.


  2. Reblogged this on 50'Lux and commented:

    Yet another re-blog. This one is different because… it’s the first time it’s ever been re-blogged! How unique that makes it among my re-blogged articles. 😉

  3. YOU are STUNNING LIGHT on so many levels Donald Barnat! The photograpy is GORGEOUS by the way. LOVE how you filter, capture, dance with, give way and become conduit for LIGHT!!! You never cease to amaze me…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s