Revealing Light

Our November issue features a profile of "Jay Dusard, Cowboy Photographer," an artist, who, with camera in hand, targets the American West. The Douglas, Arizona, professional's had to compensate for hat brims casting shadows on his subjects' faces ever since 1983, when his first book, The North American Cowboy: A Portrait, was published, right to the present and his most recently published book titled Horses.

"One thing photography does so well is deliver information," Jay points out. "But the quality of the light must be such that the information is revealed."

As anyone shooting photographs at a rodeo, horse show or trail ride knows, it's difficult to deliver the information most people want to see - the subject's face - when it's shadowed by a cowboy hat. Through experience, Jay's found simple ways to minimize the stark contrast between the shadowed face and an otherwise suitably lit shot. Better yet, his solution requires no fancy light meters or high-tech equipment, just the judicious use of time and place.

Timing, or when a photograph's taken, directly affects how strong the contrast between light and shadow. "Of course, early in the morning or late in the day, that contrast isn't so great," Jay says, "not even in direct sunlight." Early or late, the light is softer, less harsh than it is at mid-day, and the softer light obviously decreases the contrast between the subject's face and the rest of the shot.

"The best light, almost always, is in relation to a building because there's shade," the photographer explains. "Sunlight, especially in the middle of the day, casts a tremendous shadow over the eyes and face. That just doesn't serve the revealing qualities of a good portrait. I look for shade, alongside a building or in a grove of trees, to minimize that contrast."

Where the subject is - a matter of place - also affects how well the light reveals the subject's face. Shooting in the shade softens the contrasting shadow under a hat brim, allowing light to better reflect off the person's face and, thus, reveal more information.

"Light," Jay says, "can be very revealing."

To order Jay Dusard's latest book, Horses, contact Rio Nuevo Publishers®, 800-969-9558, fax: 800-715-5888; info@rionuevo.com, www.treasurechestbooks.com.