Deconstructing Light

Deconstructing Light


A Guest post by Tanya Dyhin.

Light is fundamental to our existence as human beings. Light – electromagnetic radiation, is also fundamental to photography and the creation of the image.

Learning to visually deconstruct light, its qualities, its temperature and direction can help you to better develop your photography skills. As light makes up such a fundamental part of our lives we tend to become used to it as it becomes part our subconscious understanding of the world. To develop your photography skills and your ability to identify suitable photographic situations, settings and composition, begin to deconstruct the light you see around you, and the light in other peoples photographs.

What is the light like in the morning?

What is the light like as a thunderstorm rolls in?

What unusual and creative light sources do you have around the house that could be used in creating interesting and unusual portraits?

Take a look at your favourite photographs – where is the light in relation to the subject and the photographer?

What kind of mood has been created by the light in the photograph?

One of my all time favourite examples of an unrivalled understanding of this fundamental aspect of photography is Elliot Erwitt. Erwitt is heralded as a photographer whose skill extended beyond the ability to expose a perfect silhouette or window lit photograph, to being able to capture the decisive moment as it happened before his eyes.


Erwitt’s photographs served as a great influence when I first began to engage with photography, and continue as a great source of inspiration both technically, and in his ability to capture the essence of his subject. In the fraction of the second his images were taken, Erwitt had the ability to compose his images with a great sophistication and elegance.


Erwitt’s photographs were shot on black and white film; While the technology that we use to capture light has changed, the nature of light itself has not. The same rules apply when deconstructing and analysing light.

Consider some of these lighting and textural characteristics next time you head out with a camera. Hopefully you will uncover something that had previously existed simply as part of your subconscious that suddenly becomes part of your
conscious considerations of the world.

Afternoon Light

Image by gaab22

Diffuse Light

Image by Tanya Dyhin :

Image by Tanya Dyhin

Direct Light

Image by By Tanya Dyhin

Backlight/Side Light

Image by tomo908us

Image by Victor Bezrukov

Dappled Light

Image by By Tanya Dyhin

See more of the work of Tanya Dyhin.

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Some Older Comments

  • Rick Kyle June 12, 2010 01:14 pm

    Darren, "you light up my life"! And my photographs!

  • Allen Lazarowicz June 5, 2010 02:04 pm

    I just wanted you to know that I think your emails have the most great information on photography. I read every bit of information that you put out. Thanks

  • Martin Soler Photography June 4, 2010 08:17 am

    Thanks for a practical article. I know it's a hot topic but HDR does give an ability to play with direct light and other light forms as well. I've done some and I try to minimize the HDR look to just use all the light.

  • nick June 4, 2010 07:06 am

    one more sample of early morning light

  • nick June 4, 2010 07:04 am

    love the morning light and late evening. nothing can replace that colors.

  • Pat Bloomfield May 29, 2010 09:38 pm

    Great article Tanya.

    Learning to see and appreciate light's quality is a key stepping stone in the transition from a point-and-shoot snapper to taking photography as an art form.

    PatB Photography

  • Joel May 25, 2010 06:15 am

    I took an interesting back lit shot recently after reading about the technique in a photography magazine:

  • Jonathon Jenkins May 25, 2010 05:20 am

    This is a great start into the exploraation of light. Photography is all about light and it is really important to understand the type, color, and quality of light. It is also very important to understand how cameras see light as opposed to our eyes. I've been enjoying light on flowers, plants, etc. I've included one of my images that demonstrates a backlit subject in late evening light.[eimg link='' title='FCDailyshoot6' url='']

  • Cynthia May 24, 2010 08:11 pm

    What is that second picture? A mix between Doisneau and Bresson? :P

  • George Fragos May 24, 2010 08:00 am

    Nice article but I feel a few words on color temperature are in order. Light sources can impact the color of light, bright sun or strobe flash is colder almost blueish, tungsten is different shades of yellow to red, and florescent may give everything a green tinge. When taking the picture we may not see the difference in color because our brain inserts a color filter to for example to make something we know is white look white. This is an issue with transparency film but the white balance in digital cameras can correct the recorded images color somewhat. It can be helpful to understand what the eye perceives, the camera lens produces and what the media records have differences.

  • Ilan (@ilanbr) May 24, 2010 07:07 am

    These are beautiful examples!

    I learned much about light from .... painting! Check out the works of Edward Hopper for example. The guy is a light genius, and even though he is a painter and not a photographer, the use of light and lighting in his works is extraordinary. Just check his famous 'Nighthawks' painting.

    Here are some of my works, inspired by him - and - both these photos are inspired by Hopper's works.

  • Patrick Skotniczny May 24, 2010 06:47 am

    Its easy enough to make your own light in a studio environment.

    But the real skill lies in understand how natural light works and when the right time will be to take the shot.

    Great article!

  • Patrick Skotniczny May 24, 2010 06:46 am

    Its easy enough to make your own light in a studio environment.

    But the real skill lies in understand how natural light works and when the right time will be to take the shot.

    Great article!

  • Andrew Quinn May 24, 2010 06:42 am

    Great post and really nice examples