Remember What You Forgot and Learn What You Never Knew.

Remember that sinking feeling you had in Algebra II when you realized you should have paid more attention in Algebra I? Well, here you are with your camera and it’s deja vu all over again! The fundamentals of light and color that were taught in Science and Physics classes in High School really do have an application in the real world. And your real world is right now.

The very stuff that seemed so irrelevant back then are the foundation of the photography you are loving now. Suddenly you realize the difference between memorizing facts and grasping concepts. Those answers you “committed to memory” for the exam got forgotten the next day. Real life requires real understanding. Here you are with a spiffy new camera bristling with techno-features and a Settings file that looks like the dashboard of a 747. Every term you’re reading may as well be written in Russian. Geeez!

OK, let’s look at this like adults. The past is the past. You didn’t learn this earlier, but you want desperately to understand it now. So let’s break it down to the basics. Most of the settings on your camera concern either light or color. That’s because photography is ALL about light; how to measure it, capture it, and how you shape it. Here’s a factoid tounge-twister: without light you have no color, and without color, you have no light. Light and color have a desperately symbiotic relationship that you need to grasp now.

Here are some basic questions that you should know the answers to if you want to use your camera as a precision tool more than an open-end experiment. Pay attention… these issues are very important, and they directly relate to how you use your camera.

• Are you aware that all color is based on pure white light? • Do you know that there are several different “color buckets” that your camera can use (and it expects you to choose)?

• Do you know that the perfect balance of all colored light becomes white light? • Can you name the color that is directly in-between yellow and blue (hint: it’s not green).

• Do you know that sunlight changes intensity all during the day and that clouds and shade not only darken the light, but change the color of the light? • Do you know that accurate color is based on the color gray?

Every one of these questions has a direct bearing on how your camera records each scene as well as how you edit your pictures. When you understand the basic behavior of light from your camera’s perspective, you’ll know all these answers, and more. You’ll feel much more qualified to step into any situation and capture the light with confidence.

Here’s one more thought. If you’ve been depending on your camera being smart enough to figure all these things out, you are probably already disappointed. Your camera isn’t really smart at all, it just knows the right questions to ask. You need to know the right answers.

If you rely on your camera’s Auto functions (color, focus, metering, shutter speed, ISO) to capture your shots, you’re missing the real fun (and probably the most creative pictures). You are to be the smart one, the camera is simply there to faithfully carry out your choices. Choices are knowledge-based decisions. Get smart and stop getting lucky.

That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think. Sign up for this blog and join me on a regular basis. I love to hear other opinions and feedback. Life’s for learning.

If you’d like to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light! All the answers to these (and more) questions are answered in an easy-to-understand video series.

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About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook Digital Color Photography from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color video series at Gotta Know
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