Module 5: Light

0 Posted by - June 10, 2014 - Courses, Photography Appreciation
Claude Monet, Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer), 1890/91

Claude Monet, Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer), 1890/91

Light is the essential ingredient of photography. The word “photography” is derived from the Greek, meaning “to draw with light.” Technically, a photographic exposure is the capture of light on a photographic medium, but that is just the beginning. Light is the wondrous medium by which we perceive the world and discover meaning. As such, light is the basic grammar of the visual arts.

Through 1890 and 1891, the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet produced a series of about 25 paintings called Stacks of Wheat, known popularly as “Monet’s Haystacks.” This series is a canonical study of light in art history, and it depicts the complex array of color, shadow and expression in light. Monet argued that it was the light and atmosphere that transformed subject matter and gave it its value and meaning.

For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.

The first consideration in photography then is light. Photographers find or create the quality, direction and color of light that produces the desired expressive effect. Read this examination of how Irving Penn used different types if light to achieve various effects in his work.

Question: What is the difference in the light and the feeling/meaning that is communicated in the two photographs above. Share your response in the discussion below.

Module Content

With these concepts in mind, please read and view the following module content. This material outlines key lighting concepts and terms, and provides additional perspectives for creating and evaluating effective photographs.

The Photographer’s Vision, pp. 24 – 37; and 181 – 185

“The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Natural Light”

“Where’s the Light?” slide presentation by James Bowey

Critiquing Photographs (PDF) The Elements of Effective Photographs

Featured Photographer: Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz, Dairyland, Provincetown, 1976

Joel Meyerowitz, Dairyland, Provincetown, 1976

Joel Meyerowitz is recognized for his pioneering use of color in fine art photography, and his book Cape Light (1978) is regarded as a classic study of color and light. Read links about the photographer and his work here. As you consider Meyerowitz’s images, pay particular attention to how he uses different types of light in his work.


Read the Featured Photographer links and research photographs by Joel Meyerowitz. Then find and add your favorite photograph by the photographer to the Dropmark photographer collection. Write a brief photographic analysis/critique explaining why it is an effective photograph. Apply the module content on critique and effective photographs in your analysis. Full Directions

Discussion Topic

Select a photographer and photograph from the gallery links below, or other sources of master photography, and explain the use of light and how it creates meaning in the image. Use specific terms from the module introduction and content in your explanation.

Randall Scott Projects, Washington, D.C. 
Jen Bekman Gallery, New York 
Robert Klein Gallery, Boston 
Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery, Dallas
Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco 

Full Directions

Creative Practice

Go explore the light. Get away from your home or campus and create a photograph using light to express a specific intent. You must consciously select effective light with intent, so pay attention to the weather and time-of-day to find good light.

Submit the photograph to the Dropmark student collection for this class and explain the intent of your photograph and how you used light to communicate the subject of your image, using terms from the class materials and discussion. Use specific terms from the reading to describe the type and quality of light you are using. Full Directions

Top Image: Irving Penn, Isamu Noguchi, New York, 1983