I used to think that lighting was everything. Scratch that. I still do think that lighting is everything, but I think about it differently now.
I used to feel like only pretty light was everything, that finding that gorgeous, dreamy golden hour light was the first thing I needed to find, that putting my subject in only the most beautiful, angelic light was everything. I used to think that nobody would ever be able to like my work if the day I shot on wasn’t gold and pink with streaky, dusty light coming through trees or dipping down over the ocean, that if I shot on a cloudy day, my work was bad.
What I’ve come to realize is that lighting is important, but the story is more important. You can’t have “good light” if you don’t have an intentional story behind it. Why did you put your subject in dreamy light? What message did that send? Did you just find that light because that’s what everyone else was doing? Because that would allow you to “correctly” expose the image? And what is the correct exposure, anyways?
Even lighting might be necessary for product photography, for company headshots, for family photos where the intention is to see everyone’s face, for formal portraits at a wedding.
An image that is fogged, underexposed, dark, dingy, or, on the other end of the spectrum, overblown, overexposed, harsh, isn’t a bad image. It’s an image that shares a moment in time the way someone intended it to be shared. It leaves the creativity up to the photographer or the creative director of the shoot.
In my opinion, the only bad light is the light that is not intentionally chosen to tell the story, to frame the subject, to complement the composition, or complement the purpose of the image so that, when the image is shared, the audience can connect to the image the way the photographer wanted to share it.