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The Story Behind That Picture - 111
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The Story Behind That Picture: "Looking for the Light"

By: Thorsten Overgaard


Looking for the magic light is what can really boost your photography. It may be hard to see at first what 'magic light' is, but once you start seeing it, your photography will take a lift to new levels.

When in Jakarta earlier this month, fortune had it for me that there was some magic light just outside our hotel. So when we first walked out and about to find light for some portraits, I took a note of this place. And when we some hours ater did a model shoot, that was the place I picked.


I did a test photo when I walked by the first time. The signs of magic light is that the faces of people glow, the details in texture and edges of things glow. Overhang like this (or a tree) together with large surfaces that reflect light is a good start. If there is also a few sparkles of direct light or reflections of it peeking through holes ... it might be really good. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


Magic light is everywhere, so usually you don't have to walk far to find it. It can be as close as in the building you are sitting in. And once you start seeing it, you will recognize the condistions for good light from a distance. You look down the street to the next corner, and there it is. And you know that at this time of the day, many corners will look like that. So which one offers some intersting backgrounds and action for you to photograph?


For the model shoot I asked Joy Villa to dress down to suit the less noble surroundings, and we took out her notebook and our well-traveled Louis Vuitton suitcase to make it an adventourous location after weeks of travel (which we have done, though not on a camel-back or in a Jeep across the desert as the image could suggest). We did several photos from this side and the front, and for a while also a cat paid a visit to the scene. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2013 Thorsten Overgaard.



"Towards the end of 2012 I purchased a Leica M9P camera and Leica 35mm lens; I did not know how much this little black box was about to shape all of 2013 for me.

In Jan 2013 I attended a four day workshop in London with Danish photographer Thorsten Overgaard. It was, not only, an incredibly informative few days but also tons of fun and I met some wonderful people. The encouragement I got from Thorsten and everyone else gave me an incredible boost to get 2013 started. In fact I loved the workshop so much I immediately enrolled on the Sept 13 session which turned out to be even better.

I found Thorstens straight forward approach to both using the camera and towards editing extremely refreshing but it was the way he taught me how to look for light that, honestly, changed the way I view the world.

I see differently now and because of that I also think differently. I've started to compose and record music in a way that is much clearer and for the first time in my career true to how I want to hear it.
(Feel free to see images on my blog).

  - B. G. (Music Composer & Producer London)  


We also met a young girl sitting next to the location, but she refused to move over and be part of the photo. But when Joy joined her, she was fine with posing for the photographers.

Beind the scenes in Jakarta. Joy with the little girl.


The right light at the right moment

Unlike a film crew that has to (re-) create great light to have the same light for hours, you as a still photographer can capture it in the instant you stumble over it. You need a few seconds, a film set needs hours or days. That's why they have truckloads with light equipment and you can do with a small camera and your eyes.

It's important to use the light when it is there. Often it falls in place the same time; a great background and settting, lit with magic light. When you see that it is important to use it. Don't just take one snapshot, but work the scene for some minutes or longer. Give it your best and tell your self you're done and can move on when you have explored the possibilities.

As in the scene I stumbled over in Istanbul earlier this year. A bakery with great colors and light, and a boy who just arrived to pick up bread. I waited outside for some minutes till he came out, and later on the computer I could review the images of the scene when he came out the door, when he got onto his bike, and when he left on his bike.


Sample photo Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 © Thorsten Overgaard
A moment in Istanbul. Leica M 240 with Leia 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. DNG file edited in Lightroom 3.6.
© 2013 Thorsten Overgaard.


You never know what other elements may enter and improve or ruin the scene, so you work with what is happening. A car can come by and block the perfect image, but on the other hand another character might eanter the background and make it even better.

All you got to lead you is the light and the scene, along with a feeling that there is something great about this. And then you work with it.



"Meeting you was one of the most memorable things in my life!"

  - I. L. (USA)  


To read more about my views on light and how to use it, feel free to download the book:



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Thanks for Irfan and Abi for making the visit to their hometown Jakarta unforgettable!

Thorsten Overgaard, December 31, 2013




Above: Jakarta, Indonesia, December 2013. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © 2010-2014 Thorsten Overgaard.


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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

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