Go To The Light

Cadillac Mountain Sunrise by Lindsay Adler
Cadillac Mountain Sunrise by Lindsay Adler

There are so many things that go into making a great image: composition, subject matter, aperture, and much more. Yet I have discovered time and time again the main difference between a good image and a great image is one thing... LIGHT.

Lets say that you have your camera on a tripod and are photographing from the top of a mountain. First you shoot mid-day, then one toward the evening, then one at sunset. If you have your camera on a tripod, all images have the same composition, the same (or similar) aperture, and are fundamentally the same image. Yet it is likely that you have one terrible image, one acceptable image, and one outstanding image. Why? Because light makes all the difference. This is why Canon Explorers of Light have that name... that's what they do... they find the light, create the light, or wait for the light to create stunning images.

This is true in all types of photography. The light is fundamental in nature photography, photojournalism, fashion photography, portraiture. I've seen very strong images taken with average light-- there was something in the image that was redeeming like stunning subject matter. Yet I have seen few if any amazing images with average light.

If I could give any beginner photographer a piece of advice to improve their photography, I would tell them this: "Learn to see the light. Go to the Light." It sound like I'm preparing someone for death, but really its fundamental for a person's success in photography. If you learn to see the way light shapes a model's face, your portrait and fashion photography will improve drastically. If you learn to anticipate and wait for the right lighting in landscape photography, your images will improve drastically.

Here is an image I took on top of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park in Maine. The image was taken in June 2005 with my Canon 10D and a Sigma 17-35mm wide angle lens. Why is this image not just a good image? It is a great image because of the light. I woke up at 3:30am to drive up to the top of the mountain with my mother. We set up our cameras, our tripods, and waited for sunrise. It was so windy I could barely stand, it was freezing cold, and I remember tears freezing to my cheeks when the wind blew them down my face. Yet I can say without a doubt, it was worth it.

  • I love that you wok up to drive to the top of the mountain with YOUR MOM. My mom is my favorite person in the world to go shooting with. She took an interest in photography because it gave us an excuse to hang out and she’s really become a phenomenal photographer. Its a great chance to bond.

    Beautiful image! And I’m sure, a beautiful memory too!

    • One of the things that early on made photography so important to me was that I could share it with the people I love. My mom and my grandmother were both hobbyist photographers, and as a child we would go out on walks in the woods with our cameras, looking for magical little things to photograph. My grandma has since passed away, but I’ll always have those special memories of her. For my mother, each year since I was about 14 we have been going on at least one ‘photo adventure’ a year. We’ve been to Glacier National Park, Acadia, Paris, Banff, and many other exciting place. On our annual trip it is time for just the two of us to bond and make beautiful images in the process. Photography is a gift I am lucky to share with those I care about.

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  • That is a pretty phenomenal image, I gotta say Lindsay, it definitely grabbed me with a “Wow!” I live at 9600 feet, in the Rockies, and the thing that gets me, winter, summer, early or late, is the alpenglow, that stunning purple/pink/rosy light that comes from and off the mountains. Gorgeous!