In Pursuit of Light                    Brent Pennington                     PhotographerMy name is Brent Pennington. I’m a...
Photography is about many things: subject, expression, emotion, place, time. The list goes on. But at its core it’sabout l...
As a photographer, my life revolves around the pursuit of light. It’s something that camera jockeys become veryaccustomed ...
Photographers are all a bit nutty, if you haven’t figured that out by now. We see the world in a very different way.Every ...
If you study a batch of these images, you’ll find that most were taken around the same times of day: sunset andsunrise. Th...
This same composition, taken during plain daylight, wouldn’t be half as interesting.As a matter of fact, you won’t find to...
In comparison, here’s another winter image, from the snowfall we had this past October. This is the northern endof Lackawa...
It doesn’t have to be big things, either It can be something as simple as apples on a tree in autumn. Even the lightdoesn’...
This is equally true in all other forms of photography as well. Consider portraiture, where we follow the samerules as the...
You’ll notice, however, that most photographers abhor pure, direct flash - in all the behind the scenes photos,you’ll find...
As the quality of the light changes, so too does the emotional impact it has on us. I’ll jump back to a landscape fora mom...
If I’m shooting an engagement session, I won’t want to communicate “restful.” I want to show that my happycouple-to-be is ...
To shoot something a little more dramatic, however, I’ll exercise more control over the light, to darken thesurroundings a...
Now Joey is cool, there’s no doubt about that, but Alli wants even more drama and more energy in her photos.Which just mea...
Each of those examples shows the increasing complexity of flash lighting, how it’s able to work alongside theambient light...
But even so, your job as a photographer is to show them at their best, which means manipulating the light. In thisinstance...
This is an immature bald eagle, pulling up from the river with a fish in his talons. It’s a small fish - goodness knowsa s...
Of course, not every critter - or every model, for that matter - wants dramatic lighting. We tend to gravitatedtowards it,...
In wildlife photos, the only trick going on is just a flicker of light - I’ve got a flash mounted to the camera and dialwa...
Light is the defining factor in photography. It’s actually the defining factor in most of life itself, but because it’salw...
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In Pursuit of Light - Pecha Kucha Night Scranton

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This presentation was part of Pecha Kucha Night Scranton and was presented in that style: 20 slides, each automatically advancing after 20 seconds. The narration is based on my presentation notes. My goal with "In Pursuit of Light" is to not only share how I perceive the world as a photographer, but also to emphasize the role in which light plays in determining our moods and reactions, which is often overlooked.

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In Pursuit of Light - Pecha Kucha Night Scranton

  1. 1. In Pursuit of Light Brent Pennington PhotographerMy name is Brent Pennington. I’m a photographer and have been making imagesfor over six years. My professional specialties are commercial and portraitphotography, but I also spend a of time outdoors, where I pursue nature andwildlife photography.
  2. 2. Photography is about many things: subject, expression, emotion, place, time. The list goes on. But at its core it’sabout light. Photography is the study of light. You can’t take photos in the dark. (Well, you can, but it’s a heck ofa lot harder...)
  3. 3. As a photographer, my life revolves around the pursuit of light. It’s something that camera jockeys become veryaccustomed to, such that it becomes second nature to evaluate and critique it.Spend some time with me and you’ll start to hear loony statements like “Wow, the light is cold today.” I get up at5am to be in the field for sunrise, even in winter, when it’s below zero out.Come the magic hour, that period right around sunset when the world is bathed in a warm, golden glow, I’mskipping dinner to be back in the field, capturing it.
  4. 4. Photographers are all a bit nutty, if you haven’t figured that out by now. We see the world in a very different way.Every scene is measured in terms of composition, color, and contrast. And in the end, each element comes backto the same starting point: light. A composition isn’t pleasing because of what it is, because of how it’s lit.This is probably evident to everyone when it comes to landscape photos - the pictures you find on calendars andthe like.
  5. 5. If you study a batch of these images, you’ll find that most were taken around the same times of day: sunset andsunrise. This is when the light is “best,” by which we mean that it is the most dynamic. It has energy andtransmits a feeling.This next image was shot in Vermont, by moonlight on a very cold January night. It’s an interesting image becauseit’s uncommon - it’s rare that we see landscapes by moonlight and almost quite like this.
  6. 6. This same composition, taken during plain daylight, wouldn’t be half as interesting.As a matter of fact, you won’t find too many photographers out in the field during the midday hours. It’s simplynot a time when image making is at its prime. Which isn’t to say that it cannot be done: here’s an image that wasshot on a July afternoon last summer. It probably meets the criteria for being a “good” photo - it’s attractive,indicative of the subject matter, maybe even communicates an emotion.But to make it look this way, I had to dig pretty deep into my bag of tricks. There are multiple filters on the lens: apolarizer to cut out all the glare, a graduated filter to knock down the light in the sky. And of course in editing - inPhotoshop - there were more adjustments to bring it back in line not only with what I saw with my own eyes, butwhat I also saw in my imagination when I made the image.
  7. 7. In comparison, here’s another winter image, from the snowfall we had this past October. This is the northern endof Lackawanna State Park, moments before sunrise, and there is no filter or Photoshop magic in this image. This ishow the moment looked; all I did was compose, focus, and capture. Ten minutes later, the sun came over thetrees and this scene was gone. Which isn’t to say that the one that replaced it wasn’t as good, it just wasn’t onethat resonated with me enough to make an image of it.
  8. 8. It doesn’t have to be big things, either It can be something as simple as apples on a tree in autumn. Even the lightdoesn’t have to be special. I went out in the rain to see what images I could find, and came across this one.Without the overcast, there would have been harsh dappled sunlight and hard, dark shadows here. Without therain, there wouldn’t have been glossy highlights. In short, there wouldn’t have been an image.
  9. 9. This is equally true in all other forms of photography as well. Consider portraiture, where we follow the samerules as the old paint masters, albeit with different tools. A north facing window will still provide the best portraitlight, soft and lovely for a face.But lacking such a window, photographers resort to artificial lighting, in the form of electronic flashes.
  10. 10. You’ll notice, however, that most photographers abhor pure, direct flash - in all the behind the scenes photos,you’ll find our flashes mounted to umbrellas and softboxes, all of which alter the quality of the light, bringing itline with our vision of the photo we’re after. Whereas in nature we chase the light, in a studio we attempt to tameit, or even blend the two together.
  11. 11. As the quality of the light changes, so too does the emotional impact it has on us. I’ll jump back to a landscape fora moment: this is one of Vermont’s covered bridges at twilight. Twilight is my favorite time of day - the sun has setand the remaining light is soft and cool. It’s peaceful; it speaks of rest at the end of a long day. But if that’s notthe emotion we’re trying to convey, then that’s not the look - or the light - that we want.
  12. 12. If I’m shooting an engagement session, I won’t want to communicate “restful.” I want to show that my happycouple-to-be is just that: happy. I want them out in a field, acting silly and laughing with each other. But that’sstill only half the image, because happy, laughing people don’t look happy in the blues of twilight. They needwarm light, light that the viewer will find inviting and energetic. There’s a lot of green and yellow here, colors thatare energetic and upbeat.
  13. 13. To shoot something a little more dramatic, however, I’ll exercise more control over the light, to darken thesurroundings and leave some harsher shadows. Take Joey here - he’s a cool looking dude, he doesn’t want thelight, happy feeling of the last shot. He wants something that says, “I mean business.” So I take more control overboth the existing light and the flash light, I cool their temperatures down, and make it more dramatic overall. Thisis light that makes him pop from the background. This ain’t girly light.
  14. 14. Now Joey is cool, there’s no doubt about that, but Alli wants even more drama and more energy in her photos.Which just means even more control.This time, I’ve completely overpowered the ambient light. All you’re seeing here is light from a series of flashes,which have colored gels on them to add warmth to the light. All together I’ve got multiple lights, with lots ofshadow interplay, combined with an energetic model. I refer to this as “pop star” lighting, because that’s themood it’s striving for.
  15. 15. Each of those examples shows the increasing complexity of flash lighting, how it’s able to work alongside theambient light or overpower it. But let’s reverse all that for a moment and look at another, much more subtleexample; wildlife photography. You might think that working with wild animals, that complex lighting wouldn’t benecessary. And that’s true to an extent - you find the critters where you find them, and they don’t take posingadvice well.
  16. 16. But even so, your job as a photographer is to show them at their best, which means manipulating the light. In thisinstance, you’re making judgements based on the environment and ambient light - maybe a different angle will letyou get a better shot, or maybe a cloud is about to pass in front of the sun, which will result in more even lighting.Sometimes it just comes down to luck, being in the right place at the right time.
  17. 17. This is an immature bald eagle, pulling up from the river with a fish in his talons. It’s a small fish - goodness knowsa struggling trout would have made this an even cooler image. But it’s the lighting that gives the drama to thisscene. The shadows in the background have isolated the eagle, who is still in the sunlight, giving the image analmost studio-shot quality. Again, it’s drama, and it works because it fits the subject. The light isn’t just makingthe photo possible, it’s giving us subtle insight into its meaning.
  18. 18. Of course, not every critter - or every model, for that matter - wants dramatic lighting. We tend to gravitatedtowards it, both as viewers and as photographers. Mostly because it is dramatic, and therefore seems like it’sbeyond our everyday experiences and lives. But sometimes it’s better to keep things in proper perspective. Thislittle guy is not a dramatic fellow. He’s just sitting in a canal, chowing down on some algea, and happy as a pig inslop. Which is exactly how I wanted to portray him. Simple is better - focus on the cuteness factor and show himfor what he is.
  19. 19. In wildlife photos, the only trick going on is just a flicker of light - I’ve got a flash mounted to the camera and dialway, way down. It’s throwing just enough light to put a catchlight in his eyes. This is something I do for all mywildlife subjects - and the same theory applies to people. That subtle flick of light isn’t adding anything to theexposure. But he catchlight in the eyes adds a spark of life. It quite literally makes a living subject look alive. Andthat’s the key to the whole thing.
  20. 20. Light is the defining factor in photography. It’s actually the defining factor in most of life itself, but because it’salways there, we tend to overlook it. We see its effects and understand them, even appreciate them, without everthinking about the underlying reasons. In a strange way, it takes a camera to make us re-discover light.And then, of course, it becomes an obsession.

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