I'm teaching an intermediate photojournalism course this semester at UNC-Chapel Hill. We'll be concentrating on learning how to light with strobes; studio and the smaller 35mm flashes. But first we're learning to see light. Because it's all around us it's easy to take for granted. So to get everyone in the habit of consciously seeing what they can work with and to learn not to feel intimidated, I sent them out to create/take ten photos that use one light as the dominant and noticeable source. There's always going to be at least one. And if not, then you create your own. And sometimes that's all you want or need. So that's where we started.
Heading out after class I came across this scene at the bottom of the stairwell outside the East End Martini bar. It summed up my evening's lesson plan perfectly. Irony of the "tobacco" state's recent legislation banning smoking in most restaurants and bars aside, this is the kind of scene photographers-in-training, be it at UNC, the local camera club, or a mid-life career changer should be looking for when learning about lighting and what does and doesn't work. It may not be the best photo; it may not be the best for the assignment you're on; but by consciously photographing it, you're filing that experience away. And it's this compilation of experiences (and the act of compiling) that helps you become a smarter photographer and therefore a better one.