Light as The Subject


The camera captures light alone. The subject is incidental.

It has to be understood in photography that, what is being captured is not really the image of a particular subject, but instead, of the light as it is falls on that subject and is reflected by it to the camera. The image being essentially a record of the characteristics of the ambient light, the same subject can appear in various different forms, depending on the light conditions at the time that it was photographed and based on the angle from which the light falling on it was seen.

For the purposes of photography, flat lighting with no prominent dark or brightly lit areas, fits in easily within the dynamic range of brightness that can be captured on film. Such light is good for capturing the details and the colours of the subject.




This tigress had come down to the edge of the waterhole to quench her thirst. Her location was in the open shade which gave a smooth flat lighting. The details of her stripes and her reflection in the still waters could be captured perfectly because there were no prominent shadows covering any portion of the image. Bright sunlight, had it been falling on her, would have resulted in deep shadows and a different image, though not necessarily any inferior. Different light conditions simply permit us to capture the same subject in a ‘different light’.




The dull overcast and slightly misty atmosphere of this shot forms the backdrop for the fishermen and the sea gull both heading out early in the day on their routine search for food. With the water and the sky, both reduced to a dull grey, merging seamlessly and the details largely washed out leaves a lyrical timeless impression on the viewer of this image. This hazy image ends up triggering a particular impression that makes you think. It becomes an engaging image for that reason.




Mountains give us a sense of permanence. They have always been there as unchanging mute spectators to the hectic activities going on below. The changing character of the light, over the day and across seasons, challenges this perceived notion of the ‘sameness’ of the mountain. Magic is created when the early morning soft golden hued light of the rising sun, low on the horizon, hits this snow clad peak. The same subject constantly changes transforming from moment to moment when we try and capture the light reflected by it. Our eyes tune into fresh possibilities when we develop sensitivity to the play of light, rather than the subject.




The ambient light often defines character of a subject.

This monument erected as a cenotaph to a long dead local king had its intricate architectural features clearly visible in bright daylight. However, the somber mood of this subject was, at least in my view, appropriately captured when a mere record of the details of the monument was sacrificed by placing it against the glorious desert sunset later that evening. The disc of the sun by this time had sunk below the horizon, but continued to paint the sky red before the darkness could descend. The changed character of light had transformed the very same monument.




Backlit subjects typically have a warm halo of light around them but also confine the subject itself to relative darkness. This pattern is sometimes broken in flowers that have translucent petals. Some light filters through the petals to give them an ‘inner glow’ as in the case of these two orchid flowers. A similar effect can be achieved by using a compensatory flashgun light, but the dynamic range of natural light filtering through the petals gives a far more natural result that our senses find more appealing.