Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography. – George Eastman
Eastman knew, among many other things, that photography needed to be accessible, that people needed to be able to capture all the moments of their lives, not just those for which people had time to sit and impatiently wait. When he introduced the Brownie camera in 1900, it sold for a mere one dollar and while a dollar was still of significant value at that time, Eastman’s invention put cameras in the hands of more people, and made it possible to capture more images, than anything or anyone had done prior. In his opinion, Eastman felt that there was absolutely nothing, no single aspect of the human existence, that was not worth photographing.
One of the challenges Eastman faced, though, was the fact that many of the people buying these new cameras of his had absolutely no concept of what photography was, how it worked, or how to take a good picture. Those early Brownie users had no idea that a subject sitting fully in the sun was likely to be over-exposed, while those sitting in the shade were going to be quite in the dark. A very high number of unrecognizable pictures could have very easily caused the new inventions to fail in the market. One of the most under-recognized aspects of Eastman Kodak amateur film was its ability to balance out some of those lights and shadows so that errors of ignorance would be less severe.
Highlights and shadows are not only part of photography, though. They are part of business and they are part of life. Eastman Kodak has struggled to adapt and find its way in a digital world. The company that once defined photography for a large number of people around the world is now but an afterthought and many younger photographers don’t even recognize. George Eastman had his own shadows as well. Faced with increasing pain from a spinal disease that made it difficult to walk, on March 24, 1932, Eastman penned a short note:
Dear friends —
My work is done.
He then shot himself through the heart, ending an era of some of the greatest innovation photography has ever seen.
Natural light is an amazing tool and certainly the more we understand light better able we are to create stunning photographs. We do well, though, to mind the highlights and shadows, to use them effectively and be careful to keep them in balance, both on camera and off.