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Plain and Simple Light: Athar

Athar Khan is sort of a local legend in Howard County, MD. Many people know him as "the Columbia Bike Guy." He is always out on the roads, biking. He sometimes wears wild hats, or dresses unusually, etc. Lots of people honk and wave, but few people really take the chance to learn very much about him.

I photographed him for HoCo360 last week, and the post is making the rounds locally these days. And it is a good reminder that even though Strobist tends to center around lighting, what is far more important is what you are actually seeking to accomplish with your photos.

The mission of HoCo360 is simple: to better educate people in Howard County about their community and to do so in a visual way. And that's it.

So rather than the photography being and end goal, it is a tool toward that larger mission of discovery. That's a very important distinction, and one that I fear is frequently lost on many Strobist readers.

Take the photo above for example. It was lit with an SB in an umbrella at upper camera right and another SB, boomed above and bounced off of the ceiling.

That's neat to know -- and very simple light compared to many of the photos that are written about here. But it's important to remember that the main value of photography is not about f/stops and shutter speeds and lighting ratios. It is about photography's ability to connect people.

The photo above is lit even more simply -- a bare flash on a stand, pointed up into the wall/ceiling at camera right. The light takes on some of the color of the wall as a result, which disguises the fact that the photo is lit at all.

The aperture is set so that the light exposes Athar appropriately, and the shutter dragged just long enough to let the window light bleed in and create a natural look. But that is not what is important about the photo.

What is important is that Athar is seen (and recognized) daily by thousands of people. Yet very few of those people actually know him very well, or have an understanding of who he really is. The HoCo360 post bridges that gap of understanding.

That is the value of photography, especially when paired with words. Local readers of HoCo360 will recognize the face immediately. (Hey, I've seen that guy on the road…) And that is what draws them in to learn more about a unique and different person who makes our county more interesting.

They are very simple photos -- and that includes the lighting. But the lighting is not the star here, nor should it be. What is the star is Athar, and a photograph's ability to instantly bridge those gaps of understanding.

You see the photo. If you are local, you recognize the guy. And you are drawn in to learn about him, about the person you recognize but you don't really know.

Without the photo, that process doesn't happen.

So yeah, know how to use your light. But do not elevate lighting -- or any other technique -- to a level such that it obscures what it really important about photography. Or you reduce the whole medium to a parlor trick.

More: Athar Khan: The Columbia Bike Guy

Next: Martin Prihoda for Cosmo


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