As a photographer I am interested in the history and myths of light. Photographers and painters were always influenced by each other in many ways and still are today. The uniqueness of the light from the photo flash seems to differentiate photography from painting, and yet the parallels between the lighting in contemporary photography and the lighting in classical paintings cannot be denied. Photographers can learn a lot from studying the lighting in classical paintings.
In many religions the night comes before the day, and light shines through to dissolve endless darkness.
In the Christian religion everything begins with light. The eye and the light are for the enlightened. Saul falls, is enlightened and becomes Paul. The light of God is his word and a lamp to the right way on the dark earth. God is light and Jesus comes to earth as light. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.” (Eph. 8.5)
In ancient Egypt the sunlight and God were one. The Egyptians saw themselves as an Empire of light in the darkness. It was the Pharaoh`s job to plant the seed of light and order on earth. The Egyptians worshiped Ra, the God of the sun and all the Egyptian priests wear the eye as a counterpart to the sun. Beauty and harmony were essential, and the Egyptian`s believed that Ra gave them the gifts of their rich Empire for their pleasure.
In Buddhism, the light belongs to enlightenment.To become enlightened means to eliminate all causes for suffering and to pursue lasting happiness. The Buddha Amitabha, which means the Buddha of endless light, is an essential figure. The light that goes out from his body goes to all countries of the ten directions of all Buddhas.
These following examples of European art and paintings show how light can be used in photography to give the image a particular mood and to emphasize an area or situation inside of an image.
For Casper David Friedrich light was the essence of romance. In his landscapes and paintings he used the technique of backlighting to give a symbolic importance to his subjects. Today the technique of backlight is used commonly in fashion photography and for photographing of objects, as well as in portraits that have a slight beautiful accentuation of light in the hair of the subject.
The thoughtful consideration of the effects of sunlight and shadows is of essential importance in Rodin his work. Reflecting lights and mysterious shadows give mystical depth and soul to his work and make them experienced as alive by the viewer.
Eros was a character of twilight that used to deceive the humans all the time. In Caravaggio`s painting the plump Amor is shown as a negative figure. The lightning in this painting is not very pleasant and can be found in photographic pictures as well, where it is used to critique the subject inside of the image and to show it in a negative way.
In Vermeer`s paintings the light always comes through the windows. This is used as a lighting technique in photography, to emphasize the atmosphere of a silent moment inside of a room with it`s natural light, or for the portrait of a person in front of the window.
In Rembrandt`s chiaroscuro a ray of light connects Samson to Delilah, who is leaving the tent in the moment of his blinding. Pointed light in a rather dark room can be used to emphasize a particular area, person or situation inside of a setting or room to give it a stellar importance or to build a stronger connection between specific people inside of an image.
Manet’s paintings are almost like photographs. He plays with light and shadows to set the mood of the picture and to emphasize the scene in the middle and foreground of the image. Many photographs have been made that copy this painting and comment on it`s photographic qualities in lightning and composition.
Monet as well uses the light to make the atmosphere of a place touchable. His compositions are often very photographic, but he emphasized the difference from photography to painting by using intensive colors.