Early in my photographic life I formulated a guideline that has served me well to this day. Since light is the essence that reveals subject matter, and because my urge was to pursue essences, I adopted the practice of looking more for qualities of light than subject matter. Because color tends to arrest the attention, my preferred medium for creative photography was and remains black and white, which emphasizes the qualities of form, texture and geometry. Whether on location or in my basement studio, my first consideration is always the light—its angle, brightness, color, contrast, how it’s shaped and it’s modification on a continuum between soft diffusion and crisp specularity. Working in this manner and reflecting on the results over time, I noticed that certain qualities of light contributed to numinance more than others. For instance, the above image calls me to consider both the nature of light and its use as a metaphor for intelligence, ideas and illumination in the spiritual sense.

The essence of light is still an open question. At the atomic level a unit of light is referred to as a photon, but that’s just a label to describe this energy that has a fixed speed but no mass and can behave as either a particle or a wave depending on how it’s observed. Photons are entirely different from matter, yet they give rise to and sustain living matter. We know they’re produced when energy is “input” or lost within an atom, specifically when an electron, best conceived an energy field, “jumps” from one orbit to another, incredibly, without crossing the distance. Billions of these events happening together result in a stream of photons. Light. Physicist David Bohm saw these emissions as information, content, form and structure itself, regarding light as “the potential of everything.”

Radiance also evokes in me considerations of the first light of the universe, a result of the great expansion or Big Bang. A key property of light, like the universe, is that it expands in all directions, piercing darkness. It’s this expansive feature that gives rise to light as a metaphor for birth, awakening, increased awareness and spiritual evolution. Deepak Chopra observed that, “In the dark we will always seek the light.” We are creatures who see meaning, clarity and understanding. Literally, light throughout the cosmos is itself the source of our increasing understanding of the universe and our beginning. Closer to home, long ago a photographer friend and mentor, Walt Weidenbacher, referenced light as a guideline for living a fuller life. He said “The world is as big as the candle we carry.”

Are we not all, potentially, radiant? Sources of light? Through transmission and reflection we reveal ourselves to each other and the world—and ourselves in the process. Having been fortunate to cross paths with many individuals who radiate light through qualities of their character, refined personalities and expanded consciousness, it gives me joy just to think of them and to know that they are present and making a positive difference in the world, dispelling the darkness.

Quick. Name three individuals that you know who are sources of light in your life. Now, besides acknowledging them, consider the nature of their light. By their very being, what are they transmitting? What are they reflecting?

Beauty is the radiance of spirit.

Alex Gray

About This Image


Theme: Radiance

Negative #: 432 (2)


July 1, 1986

I’d been working with an image that had flare, faint lines of light streaming from the sun, and I wondered if I could produce it with the lines enhanced. Flare in a camera amounts to the scattering of light within the lens system, modified by the shape of the aperture (the blades that admit more or less light onto the film or digital chip). The brighter the light; the brighter the flare.

So I set up a 4×5 camera on a tripod in the studio/darkroom and pointed it toward a bare, 250 watt, clear quartz bulb positioned about ten feet away. (To insure sharp, high contrast and radiating lines, the source had to be as small and bright a point as possible without any kind of reflector or housing behind it). I positioned the camera and bulb so its filament was in the center in the frame.

The alignment turned out to be very delicate. The slightest change in the position of the camera or the bulb made dramatic differences in the image. Adjusting the light and camera, I changed the alignment until the lines of streaming light were at a maximum—which turned out not to be dead-center. There was no way to evaluate the exposure, particularly since the amount of flare would be different at different aperture settings, so I exposed one sheet of film at each f-stop.

As expected, each setting resulted in a completely different image. Eventually, I printed four out of the seven negatives. This image, photographed at f16, was selected for presentation here because the radiating lines were the most prominent. The negative was fairly dense, so to bring out more of the gray areas in the halo’s I overexposed the paper. Even more exposure would have revealed the details in the center, eventually the filament, but I purposefully left it white in order to generalize rather than particularize the source to make the overall image more numinous.

© Copyright, David L. Smith, 2014. The images and the associated contemplations on this site are protected against any and all commercial and promotional use without the permission of  the author. However, permission is granted for individuals to download the images and print them for private, non-commercial, non-promotional use.


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