Understanding Light

Star field with jumbo rocks in Joshua Tree National Park

The Light shines from thousands of stars in Joshua Tree National Park. When I saw the milky way that night I grabbed a flashlight and camera and started to capture that wonderful sight.


Light is easy to understand once you get organized. We need only six terms to talk about light plus light has only four simple properties. The terms we use to talk about light are:

  • Specular
  • Diffuse
  • Color
  • Direction
  • Brightness
  • Contrast

The four properties of light and the terms used for each are:

  • Quality (Specular or diffuse)
  • Quantity (Brightness)
  • Color (Color)
  • Direction (Direction)

Contrast is a product of all four properties. So with only 4 properties to light is easy to analyze and understand light. Look around and see if you can analyze the light that is in front of you right now. In the room that I am in the light is coming from the left (direction) through 2 windows. One window has a shade which is diffusing the sunlight that is filling the room (Quality, Color). The other window has some direct sunlight streaming in giving great texture to everything it touches and it is very bright. (Direction, Color, Quality and Quantity). It turns out not to be very hard to analyze light, all you need to do is think about it using the four properties.

I will write a few articles and make a few videos on the properties of light and the things we can do to control them. Something like this could become a whole book on photography but I will try to have restraint. I Promise.

Comments are closed.