Go Holistic - part 1 of 1 2

by Dave Montizambert Published 01/10/2013


I'm currently braving the wilds of British Columbia and don't have access to my image database, lighting gear, or studio, so this issue is going to be a little different, more about my philosophy of lighting rather than my usual lighting 'how-to's'. In other words no pictures, no diagrams, but lots and lots of words, well maybe one tiny little picture of my intrepid truck and the wilds I'm braving.

When people ask what I do for a living I'm almost reluctant to tell them that I'm a photographer, not that I feel that there is anything wrong with being a photographer, in fact I am proud to be one, it is just that people naturally assume that photographers take pictures and they don't really seem to understand much else that a photographer might do. I do take pictures, but that is a small part of my process, to me the camera is more of a recording device than a creative device. So the majority of my image creating time is spent sculpting subjects, objects, and scenes with incredible light form and the lesser amount recording it with my camera. You could say that light-sculpting (lighting) is my art and photography is my medium and that my light sculpting is carefully crafted for the photographic capture as well as for output (photographic print, printing press and web).

I consider myself more of a picture maker than a picture taker. Ansel Adams, arguably one of the most famous photographers to ever live, was primarily a picture taker and not a picture maker. He recorded existing lighting contrast and then manipulated it in the darkroom; he did nothing to affect the light before it hit the subject. By definition (if you look it up in Montipedia) picture makers create and control light quality, light direction, and lighting contrast before the light strikes the subject, whereas picture takers record what is existing with no manipulation until after the light hits the camera. You could say that picture-makers create a reality while picture takers record an existing reality.

I learned lighting from the Thomas Aquinas (ad1225-1274) of lighting, Dean Collins (ad1953-2005). Dean brought together our fractured photographic lighting knowledge, much like Aquinas brought together philosophies, religious beliefs and stories into a cohesive study. Collins put together what he called '3 Dimensional Contrast', a holistic study of how to identify, control, and create light quality. It was and is the Rosetta Stone of lighting - once you understand 3 Dimensional Contrast you can figure out any lighting situation without any previous knowledge of how to light that sort of object or subject or for a given mood. Traditionally lighting has mostly been taught as a series of lighting recipes - 'Use these lights with these modifiers and set them up thus' - a non-holistic approach. If you don't know the recipe for a style or type of lighting you are mired down in a frustrating bout of trial and error. Essentially you are a photographic cook rather than a chef - a chef creates, a cook repeats.

I studied lighting with Collins in San Diego California in the mid-1980s; it was very exciting to have had that opportunity as he was considered to be the 'Ansel Adams' of lighting. The knowledge of 3 Dimensional Contrast did not age and will not, it will always be current. How is this possible? Well it is not based on looks or styles or equipment but rather on principles and laws of physics that do not change with every new shoot. Once you have an understanding of 3 Dimensional Contrast, every image you see becomes your teacher and/or inspiration as you can easily breakdown how it was done.

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1st Published 01/10/2013
last update 07/04/2022 09:11:58

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