Forget megapixels, the best currency for photographers is light

Above: Image, Gina Milicia

”Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman

  • The most important day in a photographer’s life is the day they start to see light
  • The second most important day is the day they understand how to work with it.

The best camera, lens and location can be reduced to mediocre if you don’t have the right light.

Beautiful lighting can turn the most bland location into a magical wonderland. The wrong lighting can make a supermodel look like Super Mario!

The best way to learn about light is to start with daylight. When a photographer can understand the subtle differences in daylight then it becomes much easier to work with artificial lighting like flash or continuous lighting.

Regardless of whether you are a beginner or more experienced photographer the following simple exercise will give you a much better understanding of daylight and how to work with it.

This exercise requires about 5-10 minutes out of your day but will radically change the way you see light.

The golf ball challenge

Buy or borrow a golf ball. It doesn’t need to be fancy smancy, a cheap plastic one will do but make sure it has the dimples (don’t use a ping pong ball).

Give it a name. I called mine Eric.

For the next week take your golf ball everywhere with you, to work, dinner, soccer practise, your morning commute, jogging, everywhere.

Whenever you move to a different location take a phone pic of your golf ball. The golf ball needs to take up half the frame. Don’t use flash or filters.

The idea here is to collect as many different lighting scenarios as possible over the course of a week. Here are a few suggestions to get you started

  • Place the golf ball on your desk, or window ledge and set a timer to take a photo every hour. Try this in a different spot every day for 3 days.
  • Take your ball outside in different light conditions and take a photo. Try early morning, midday, late afternoon, moonlight, cloudy, rain, snow.
  • Now try moving your golf ball to different spots around your home or office. A few suggestions might be, adjacent to a window, on the porch, in the entrance of a garage on a bright sunny day.

As you move from location to location notice how the different lighting conditions affect your golf ball. In particular notice the shadows on the ball and the dimples.

  • Which lighting style makes the dimples more obvious?
  • Which style of lighting makes the dimples appear less obvious?
  • Which style of lighting makes the golf ball appear more three dimensional?
  • Which style of lighting makes the golf ball appear flatter or two dimensional?
  • What time of the day does your golf ball have a blue tint or colder light?
  • What time of the day does your golf ball have a yellow or warmer tint?

Once you’ve completed this exercise try repeating it with a co-worker, or family member. You should start being able to predict how the light will affect their skin tone or shape of their face.

You will also start to notice the best lighting conditions for portraits and ones to avoid. You may also be surprised by how many options there are that you had not noticed before.

“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” – Aaron Rose


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About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE