THREE STEPS TO SOFT
By MICHAEL PERKINS
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks…?” —Shakespeare
LIGHT IS A RAW RESOURCE, MUCH LIKE IRON ORE OR GOLD NUGGETS. It needs to be refined, alloyed for it to truly be a tool in picture making. For the purpose of photography, what we call “available” light means just that; it’s there, but not in its final form. Making images means becoming an active shaper of light–bouncing it, boosting it, adding or subtracting bits of it, harnessing it if you will. Turning “available” light into usable light is the true alchemy of photography.
That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit greatly from accidents.
The above image was the result of pure seat-of-the-pants whimsy, a momentary impulse to try an idea just to see what happens. However, it was a lucky reworking of available light that drew me to the location before the idea took shape.
I have written volumes on how very harsh the pure midday sunlight is in Arizona, and how it can only be of use if it is filtered or softened in some way. To that end, I have identified various sites around my house which get that done beautifully, depending on where the sun is in the sky during different parts of the day. Some of these sites occur just inside the garage, in the living room, and in a spare bedroom, and shoots will work wonderfully depending on when and where you schedule them. Best of all, the house apparently still holds a few more surprises.
Several days ago, I discovered a new and most unusual site…..a dense art window just to the left of our master bathroom shower stall, which turns out to be a triple softener for late afternoon light, just pre-golden hour. As light streams through the window, it gets softened for the first time, then hits the mirrored closet doors on the opposite wall, where it diffuses some more. Bouncing off the mirror, it then angle-bounces to the back wall of the shower stall, still fairly bright but now really fuzzed out and warm. And that’s where I saw it, as I was walking through the room.
As soon as I spotted the light, I started brainstorming about what kind of object I might stage in this little “studio”, and I hit on the idea of a ukulele, since I always have scads of them around the house, they’re colorful, and it’s kind of an absurd variation on the whole “singing in the shower” cliche. I liked the shot from a purely light effect standpoint, and the unique shaping of the glow in that space will definitely be back for a return engagement.
Maybe a saxophone….