Seeking Good Light

There used to be a small park just off a Colorado highway down in the Big Thompson Canyon. If you stopped there you would usually see several photographers pointing their cameras at the glow of pre-married couples, the awkward smiles of pimply high school seniors, or toddlers propped up by short-tempered parents.

It seemed odd that this park would be such a hotspot for photographers. It was far enough outside the city to make it inconvenient and there were plenty of well-groomed parks within the city limits. What made this spot so special?

Was it the picturesque river that brought the photographers? Maybe the appeal came from a perfect arrangement of rocks and trees. Perhaps being located outside of town gave the photographers a bit more privacy and less distraction.

None of that hurts, but the real reason was that the light in this park was magical.

That park had a way of filtering the sunlight so that from nearly every angle any object appeared perfectly lit. Take a photo here and it will have a quality that you can't get elsewhere without expensive equipment and a deep knowledge of lighting techniques. In this park you didn't even need pro equipment, the same magic would happen with a camera phone or a pro-level SLR.

The ability to manufacture good light is what separates amateur photographers from pros. When you find a place in nature where the task of creating light is handled by magic, people will be drawn to it. They might not understand why, all they need to know is that photos taken in that spot look better than elsewhere.

I have had the privilege of working with a handful of professional photographers over the years. Watching them work is a revelation. They build the light, layer it, refine it, spend hours fine-tuning every detail until the image is perfect. If you think photography is an art driven by innate talent then you are missing the amount of effort, study, patience, and commitment a photographer has invested in understanding the properties of light. A great photo isn't the result of raw talent, it's either great luck or extreme skill. Or you happen to find yourself in a magic park where everything gets washed in perfect light.

A flood destroyed that park a few years ago. If it is rebuilt will it still be magical? Or was the magic washed away with the flood water? I doubt that it will ever be the same.

It is rare to find yourself in a place where events and circumstances perfectly align. Most of our time is spent failing. We try to identify what went wrong, we dissect our successes, search for patterns, hope to replicate the exact formula that worked that one time. Was it something we did? Was it luck, skill, talent, or magic?

When the stars align, bathing you in good light, blessing you with unexplainable fortune, don't take it for granted. You never know when the sky will open, flooding the valley, washing away your magic, leaving you to wonder what will be left with when the sun returns. Maybe the magic will reappear. More likely you will have to manufacture the light yourself, re-investing yourself in your craft, doing the hard work that most people will mistake for raw talent. Whatever happens, don't let anything stop you from seeking the good light.

Thanks for reading. Follow me because every Saturday I try to shine some light on the creative process. Hopefully this story brightened your valley. Stay creative.


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