Photographing Light as a Subject

Photographing light, whether natural or manmade, goes a long way in making an interesting & engaging photo. Photography at its core is light and shadow. That’s why it’s the first thing I look for when taking a photo.

March in the Midwest means a lot of gray skies. So on a rare sunny March evening, I decided to head out with my camera to get some photos, using the light to guide me.

Long Shadows

Non-photographers might not be familiar with the term “golden hour.” That refers to the hour or so after the sun rises and again before it sets. The sun is lower in the sky, creating longer shadows, and also casting a warmer, golden hue.

The shadows aren’t only accents to the photos, they can be the primary focus. Looking at light and shadows as subjects can take photography to a deeper level.

Black & White to Focus on Contrast

When the light is the subject, I often photograph in black & white because it draws the viewer’s focus to the light without the potential distraction of color.

Identify, Then Frame

When I see components that interest me, I’ll walk closer and find framing that I like. In the image below, the shadows and the spot of sun on the wall and the ivy were elements that I noticed. From there it’s a matter of finding a way to get them all into one photo.

Add Subjects

The direct sun on the bold red chairs were what drew my attention to the scene below. But then I noticed the table tennis players in the background and decided to incorporate them into my photos (with their consent). They helped to provide an even more complete sense of the place I was experiencing in the moment.


The opposite of shadows are highlights, which can also become the primary focus of a photo when light bounces off of shiny or reflective surfaces.

Related Posts

For more tips on improving your photography or learning about it on a deeper level, go here.

Author: Zach Dobson

Zach Dobson is a documentary and commercial photographer based in Indianapolis. He holds a degree in journalism from Indiana University with a concentration in photography. Since starting his business in 2006, Zach has focused on documenting people’s lives and businesses in action. Zach’s client list includes the Indiana Pacers, Coca-Cola, the AARP, ZipCar, Indiana University, Visit Bloomington, Hamilton County Tourism, Land O’Lakes, RIOT LA Comedy Festival, Indianapolis Public Schools, Indiana High School Athletic Association. Zach is a Professional Member of the American Society of Media Photographers [ASMP]. He resides in Carmel, Ind. with his wife and business partner, Courtney, and their five children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *