Seeing Light And Shadow

By Judith Leitner

It all begins with light and shadow: opulent daylight softly slipping through a window and illuminating a lovely face, deep shadows stretching across wide valleys and cavernous crevices, dazzling light glistening on ice or crafting strange forms along sand dunes, elongated shadows within dawn’s emergent light and dusk’s fading glow, dense light within grey fog, mellow open shade on a bright summer day, harsh and calculating flash light in a dark room: these and an infinite array of other expressions of light and shadow are the primary shapers of meaning in a photograph. Indeed, the word ‘photography’ literally means ‘writing (graphy) with light (photo)’.

The first time I taught children to ‘write with light’ I quickly understood that all they needed – after a very basic intro to the camera and film – was a few lessons in exploring light and shadow. Outdoors, we wandered and observed how time of day, weather, open air and rooftop canopies informed qualities of natural light and shadow, and we played with the flash in daylight. The children were amazed when they perceived the ways their hats blocked light and cast dark shadows on their faces. Indoors, we looked at diffused window light, [...] continue the story