Photography, by definition, is about light. Yet, it is quite common for non-professionals (including advanced hobbyists) to engage in silly debate as to whether the most important factor in making a great photograph is composition, lighting or subject matter. I think most photographers would agree that “subject matter” is the least important, as any subject can be turned into a brilliant photograph if artfully lit and composed. So that narrows it down to composition and lighting, and certainly, if a photo is brilliantly composed but horribly lit, it is worthless. On the other hand, a mediocre composition brilliantly lit will capture the viewer’s attention. So, “lighting” it clearly is.
But what if “light” itself were the subject matter? And how do you shoot light as great composition? And how do you “light” light itself?
After spending years outdoors, obsessed with capturing the human experience played out on the great stage of life called Los Angeles, I developed an intense “photosensitivity,” living in this city of remarkable light. Southern California’s year-round sunshine transforms into a multitude of translucent, intangible media when filtered through various layers of marine cover, haze, smog, fog and dew in her City of Angels. It gathers into pools of colored light on certain streets in Mid-city, sparkles like bubbly champagne on massive walls of hedges in the early morning and late afternoon in Hancock Park, transforms the sky above Venice and Santa Monica during hallucinogenic magic hours into psychedelic light shows, becomes a giant, silvery soft box on crystal clear evenings and carves out silhouetted streetscapes that turn the world into black and white photographs just waiting to be captured. Canyons and mountains, people and sea, buildings and city life all are transformed by the magical, sensual powers of Los Angeles light, multiple times a day, offering a photographer endless possibilities for portraying the city and the human experience of being here. But doesn’t light this magnificent deserve to be photographed unto itself? I decided to set out and capture the light here “in the nude,” so to speak.
What I soon discovered was that the light in Los Angeles is even more infused with powers than I had imagined, when fully exposed through a lens. Mind you, although the quality of the lens being used will introduce certain unique effects, you can discover the secret, inner qualities of light here with any lens. And what I discovered is that, within the light, there are myriad subject matters waiting to be revealed. There are messages and symbols, souls and spirits, energies and vibrations, geometries and abstraction, that lie within the beams and rays that bathe us constantly with their awesome glow, blinding brightness and splashes of color.
Recently, after a day of shooting, I met a beautiful woman who had a wonderful glow about her. She simply radiated. I couldn’t help but comment on how she was “as beautiful as crystallized sunlight.”
“But we are all crystallized sunlight,” she explained. “Our whole planet is a synthesizer of sunlight. From the plants to our very bones- they are all synthesizers of sunlight. The sunlight is why we exist.”
As photographers, we have a special gift- we turn light into art. But everything is light. We are all light. And the light that surrounds us, it is alive. It is us, in our most naked form. It is a living, communicating force, filled with divine energy. See it. Feel it. Let it touch you. It’s who you really are.
Bravo Valenti is a Los Angeles street photographer, whose gallery on Instagram is @EverybodyGetsShotInLA He became a photographer only 3 years ago, after suffering a traumatic mid-life crisis and moving to Los Angeles, to reconnect with his son. “Most photographers come to LA to shoot celebrities and models. I shoot everyone. The good, the bad and the ugly. The young and the restless. The hip and the homeless. LA is my studio and all of her people are my celebrities and models. Now, everybody gets shot in LA”