And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night… —Genesis 1:3—5 (KJV)
My love affair with Light began as a result of my chosen profession, that of Journeyman Electrician. Some electricians are fond of pointing out that in the Bible, the first thing God did after creating the heaven and the earth was to create light, and therefore work, for wiremen from Day One.
Be that as it may, much of our electrical work is done in the dark and has more to do with distributing power and connecting equipment to branch circuits. We eventually get around to the light fixtures after the tin knockers, sprinkler fitters and plumbers get out of the way.
Back in the last quarter of the 20th Century most commercial lighting was some form of fluorescent downlighting. 2×4 drop-in fixtures containing 2 or 4 lamps were the go-to solution for providing light in a building. The overhead fluorescent fixtures create an “artificial sky” of even light pouring down from the ceiling, illuminating every surface with a smooth even light.
Another popular overhead fixture is the “Hi-hat”—those round recessed lights that shine so bright. They provide a defined volume of light, much like a large shower-head sprays water in the shape of a cone. For many years these light fixtures had incandescent lamps in them. In the last 35 years a variety of compact fluorescent and LED lamps and drivers have pretty much taken away the market from incandescent lamps in these fixtures.
The last form of lighting that I want to talk about is Track lighting. It is used for a more specific purpose than the two previous types. Track Lighting accentuates/illuminates isolated objects and artwork/pictures on a wall.
Do you have a sculpture on a pedestal? Bam! Hit that bad boy with a couple of spotlights.
How about a series of photographs on a long wall? No problem! Put a flood light on each one of them.
I adjusted Track Lights using both of these methods for about seventeen years. In 1985 I had the good fortune to get on a job wiring a control studio with a pair of theaters and offices for the phone company in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be there until the end of the job and assist my foreman in working with a Lighting Designer who was brought in from New York City.
We had already mounted all of the light fixtures on the tracks and fine-tuned the Hi-hats that had focused lenses and adjustable apertures. The place looked pretty good. Word was that the NYC designer would be there after lunch. It looked like he would have a pretty easy afternoon as a result of all of our hard work.
We enjoyed our half-hour lunch break at Noon and spent the next 30 minutes double-checking our tools, ladders and stock of parts. As requested, we had several different lamps and add-on filters/lenses for each style of fixture.
At 1:30 PM we got word that it would be another 30 minutes before “lunch” was over and then it would take about 15 minutes in the afternoon traffic to get our location. Our regular 7-hour workday would be over at 3 PM and a time-and-a-half overtime pay-rate would be in effect at that point. At 5 PM the hourly overtime pay would go to double-time, with a thirty minute break for a meal.
It may sound stupid, wasteful and overly expensive to do things this way, but our friend from NYC was charging $1,000 an hour and our paltry-by-comparison wages were low on the list of Who-gives-a-flying-f*-what-you-think?
After a walk-through of the job the God of Light had a plan of action and the first change would be to get rid of the “DMV” lighting on the artwork that was tastefully mounted on the walls throughout the facility. Our dead-on floodlights were re-positioned so that they washed across the pictures, eliminating hot-spots on the glass and exposure to heat that would eventually end up fading the pigments of the work over a period of time.
Hmmmf, this ol’ boy knows a thing or three about light.
We worked until 9 PM that day and I must say that the GoL earned his keep and then some. Under his tutelage we learned to criss-cross patterns of light to evenly illuminate large areas; we learned the ins & outs of using spot, medium and wide lamps; we took it up a notch when we mixed spread, spot, medium, wide, and polarizing lenses in conjunction with the aforementioned lamps. So many combinations, so much beautiful light.
At this particular time, I was also heavily involved in 35mm Black & White photography and mildly interested in Color photography, mostly in the form of Kodachrome slides. I had been struggling unsuccessfully using available light that I occasionally supplemented with an incandescent photo-flood light. My pictures got better after my night at the foot of the Master, but I still had a long way to go.
My next leap forward in the use of light came as a result of my usual blind, dumb luck. I met a guy who knew a guy, and that guy introduced me to someone who got me interested in joining a local camera club. It was at one of those monthly meetings that met Bob Holmes, a National Geographic photographer and Lightworker extraordinaire.
Bob was a guest judge that night and shared a wealth of photographic knowledge with us. His insights on composition, exposure and use of light hit on all of my cylinders. His simple statement that a light source is either inside the photo, e.g. candlelight, or outside the photo, e.g. light thru an unseen window or door, flashed me back to The Man from NYC. Suddenly my professional life aligned with my personal passion.
A few months later, at another monthly camera club meeting, somebody brought news that Bob Holmes was offering a multi-night photography course starting with the upcoming Harvest Moon. Several of us signed up and took the class. It was money well-spent.
In addition to the nuts and bolts of taking long exposures at night, Bob shared tips that he picked up as a Travel Photographer. How do you work with a tripod on a crowed sidewalk? How do you choose a solid place to prop a camera? How do you take a photo from the middle of a milling crowd? The ability to adapt and get the picture in front of you—rather than the pre-conceived photo in your mind—is the best skill you can develop.
As a side note: Bob Holmes started out as a Travel Photographer and is the first person to receive the Travel Photographer of the Year Award from the Society of American Travel Writers. As of 2017 he is the only photographer to receive the award 5 times. The man can go places and come back with the goods.
I haven’t had contact with Bob Holmes for over 30 years, but the lessons I learned from him are the foundation to my skills as a Lightworker. My success with electrical lighting and my use of light as a photographer are a direct result of meeting this man and listening to what he had to say.
The following short video will introduce you to Bob Holmes. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.