Some insights for Photography in a TED talk

This wonderful TED presentation about lighting design and the importance of darkness reveals some important insights for photography.

Perhaps we should strive to orchestrate darkness rather than light in our images. The ideas of the three types of light: Focal Glow, Ambient Luminescence and Play of Brilliants can be directly applicable in photography. Look at the following examples:

Focal Glow

Around the Camp Fire

The camp fire provides a soft glow that illuminates the scene


The light from the camp fire provides the focal point for the scene. This type of lighting can be very dramatic with very definite demarcations between darkness and light. In many cases, though not always, the light source is visible within the scene. This type of lighting requires a clear sense of darkness to be effective. Contrast this with the following:

Ambient Luminescence

sunbathing child

The little girl here is bathed in soft light from the open shade


Here the light wraps around the subject with almost no sense of shadow – very soft and directionless. This is often employed in beauty or fashion photos as well as scenes like this one in the open shade. Even when the light is directional, there can be the impressions of ambient luminescence when there is a lot of bounce filling in the shadows as is the case with the following:

Paros Street

A street scene from Paros, an island in Greece – the white buildings bounce light everywhere


Here there is a definite direction to the lighting but the white buildings bounce light all around, filling in the shadows to soften the overall effect. Many real world lighting scenarios are combinations of focal glow and ambient luminescence like the following image:

Morning Mist

An early morning mist shrouded scene combines focal glow with ambient luminescence

The sun provides the focal glow while the mist diffuses the light to fill in the shadows. There is still a modulation of darkness in the scene but it is much softer and more peaceful than pure focal glow lighting.

Play of Brilliants



The sparkling highlights on the waves create a play of brilliants

The sunlight reflects off the surface of the waves to create brilliant sparkling highlights that stand out against the dark water. This image has multiple distinct regions of highlights that provide the compositional interest. Think of examples in your own work where this and the other lighting styles might apply. The concepts outlined in the TED talk by Rogier van de Heide can have direct application to photography and once you are aware of them you can look for their appearance in the scenes you point your camera at.

Happy light hunting!