Light speaks to us. Using a language of its own, it elicits emotions, creates atmospheres and affects the way we perceive the world. Having an understanding of how light mingles with form can significantly aid storytelling in most types of art. Artists like French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams understood the importance of light and used it to great effect.

Below, I describe three key components of lighting that photographers, cinematographers and artists utilize to help tell their stories and elicit emotion — much like Monet and Adams did.

1. Colors of Light
In addition to illuminating a space, light transforms the way we perceive the colors around us. Natural light, influenced by the weather, season and position of the sun (and moon), affect the intensity and hues of the subject. Artificial light also alters how we discern color. For instance, a standard incandescent bulb will make everything in its vicinity look “warm,” similar to a sunrise or sunset, while modern LED bulbs can emit a much cooler light, close to that of an afternoon outdoors.
Now, how do these differences help tell a story and manipulate our emotions? Many times, artists mimic nature to elicit emotion. For example, to create tension or emphasize the vibrancy of a scenario, artists tend to use warm lighting. Warm colors are typically associated with hot summer days, or fire, so subconsciously we often correlate this light with intense or lively situations. To evoke a sense of angst or depression, or to simply represent a cold atmosphere, artists intuitively use a cool color temperature.

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Image 1: Cool light | Image 2: Warm light | Image 3: Colored light

 Quick Tip: Many photographers and cinematographers prefer to shoot during the “Golden Hour,” a short time after sunrise or before sunset. The light is warm, soft and often has a magical quality.


2. Positioning of Light
Moving a light source just a few feet in any direction can dramatically alter an image. For example, positioning a light from above, pointing down at the subject versus from below, pointing up at the subject will take a standard sitcom scene and turn it into the makings of a thriller film. The positioning of the light determines the shadow placement, which is the element that adds or reduces the drama in an image. Having an understanding of how the positioning of light casts shadows and interacts with form allows artists to control highlight and shadow placement, often setting the tone for the image.

Lighting positioning
Image 1: Light positioned above, pointing down | Image 2: Light positioned below, pointing up

 Quick Tip: Soft light from above, pointed down is most often used for portraits, as it is the most flattering to facial features.


3. Intensity of Light
Light exaggerates or softens the angles of a subject according to its intensity. Direct light often creates dark, crisp shadows, which artists can use to add power, mystery and drama to an image. To create a softer vibe, the light must often be diffused. Photographers can diffuse light by bouncing it off of a surface at the subject, or shining through a white, sheer fabric before the light hits the subject. In the natural world, clouds and a rising or setting sun create diffusion.

Lighting intensity
Three different light intensity levels

Quick Tip: Lighting one side of the face considerably more than the other side will add drama to most portraits.

No matter which art form you choose to express your creativity, you probably use light in some way — perhaps without even really thinking about it. The next time you pick up your camera or start drawing, consider how you can use light to create the perfect atmosphere to help tell your story. Or, leave it to us — obviously we love our light at A. Bright Idea!

I sat down at my desk in my ergonomically correct desk chair with my laptop perched on top of its stand to begin writing this post. My fingers positioned on the keys, I stared at my computer screen. The words just weren’t coming.

My setting felt too formal for this particular task. So, I picked up my laptop and ran over to our beanbag room, repositioning myself in a comfy Dalmatian-print blob. The ideas started circulating as my mind entered a more relaxed domain. After some time, I landed on “the one” and began feverishly hashing it out.

But instead of hashing, I decided I needed to dribble. I stepped into the hallway and picked up our purple basketball, my idea transitioning from concept to concrete with every shot I took at the net hanging on the wall.

Our offices include various spots where team members can temporarily relocate, including our chill area with leather couches and punctuation mark pillows, our outdoor bar stool picnic table and our purple Adirondack chairs on the porch. Our MacBooks, Wi-Fi and Tervis Tumblers of coffee create the basis of the magic “Bright Light” solution for success, allowing us to create anywhere.

Enjoying a beautiful spring day on the ABI front porch.

Flexibility in our physical settings offers creative workspaces, which translate to the work we produce at A. Bright Idea. When we can physically change scenery, we’re much more likely to mentally readjust.

As a full-service agency, we support many different types of clients and varying projects. Sometimes we develop technical content, like descriptions of how a piece of technology works to destroy chemical weapons. Other times, we emulate Stephen King and make up a horror story for a haunted trail hosted by a nonprofit organization.

Based on the vibe or mood of the project, we prepare our minds to generate the appropriate ideas. Adapting our work space to the task at hand supports this preparation and acts as a green flag waving at the front of our brains, as if indicating approval for the ideas at the gate to set off.

We’re fortunate to have access to several buildings in our creative campus at our home base in Bel Air, while a second location sits on the edge of the tranquil Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen, California. Our surroundings set us up for success with inspiration galore!
Now that we’ve shared some of our flexible secrets, let us in on yours! What kinds of spaces do you find inspiration for your work?

One of the top tools of the social media trade we implement for both clients and our internal usage is the content calendar. Perfect for staying on track and proactive planning, a content calendar keeps your content creation streamlined and efficient, yet flexible. Although content calendars may seem like one more thing to do, the planning conducted in advance makes strategy implementation a lot easier.

Content calendars are great for keeping track of all your communication tools, including blogs, PR pitches, press releases and social media. It’s a central place where every piece of content is developed and archived. For creative teams, it’s a collaborative exercise that keeps the whole team involved. For individual social media managers, it’s an organization tool to help with time and strategy management when working with integrated content.

Need more incentive for content calendar use? Here are more of our favorite benefits:

  • Organization – The content calendar’s main draw is in its organizational structure. There’s no set way a content calendar should be created and organized, it allows customization for a given need. Columns you may set, for example, are things like “platform” (where something is posted), “contributors” (who is helping develop the content) and “deadline” (completion date). The content calendar provides a clear path for what is happening, establishes goals as well as roles and responsibilities for the team.
  • Lessons learned– By finding common themes in different posts and looking at analytic data that tracks post engagement (most platforms offer this capability for free), you’ll be able to see what resonates with your audience. Understanding what your audience needs and likes helps you target those needs and likes in future posts.
  • A look ahead – A key factor in social media and content development, in general, is making sure you are consistently posting, staying top of mind with your audience while also expanding your reach to new audiences. Using a content calendar allows you to look a few weeks to a few months ahead for notable milestones such as company and client anniversaries, birthdays, local events, awards, relevant historical events and social media holidays, just to name a few. Additionally, proactive planning allows more time for development of videos, photos or events.
Sample content calendar

Once you start using a content calendar you will see a nice variety of diverse content. That’s great, but keep in mind, it’s ok to deviate from the plan. A content calendar keeps you organized; it’s not meant to shackle you to the content you’ve developed. Social media is inherently “in the moment” so when something interesting is happening around the office your audience would appreciate, post it.

Who doesn’t love cute puppy pics?

When Edison comes around, it’s cuteness overload.

Here’s an example: A co-worker brings in their new puppy. It’s bound to get your office talking and if that’s the case, your audience will probably enjoy a cute puppy face in their news feed as well. Who doesn’t love cute puppy pics? Social media is driven on situations where you can capture the “now” to show the human side of your brand.

Can you believe that mainstream social media didn’t launch until the 2000s? Since the early days of MySpace and Friendster, social media experienced significant and rapid growth. Now, there are hundreds of social platforms worldwide. It’s impossible to have a strategic presence on every social network, even for the largest companies in the world. In fact, most businesses only manage 2-4 social channels truly effectively but for a good reason, audience participation.

It’s important for any business but nonprofits specifically, to strategically determine where audiences interested in your organization are on social. Nonprofit organizations can effectively manage social platforms even with smaller staffs, budgets and resources. We recommend using major platforms that engage with the most users: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, if you’re on the trendsetting side of social media, Snapchat. With your social channels selected, your organization can focus on audience engagement.
Once upon a time, the number of followers/likes was the measurement of success on social platforms, but now success is measured by engagement. Why? Engagement translates to conversion rates – conversion to becoming a donor, attending events or joining your mailing list. Nonprofits want to see these actions as a result.

It is common knowledge that nonprofits struggle with resources of time, money and staff so we are recommending five tried and true strategies to increase engagement on your social media platforms.

1. Get visual
Add photos to your posts on Twitter and Facebook. Share behind-the-scenes images. Show your donors what your group does! Photographs garner more engagement than text-only posts. Remember, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
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Using video to host interviews and show behind the scenes content of your business or event allows audiences to feel included in something special.

2. Spark a conversation
Use social media as a way to dialogue with your audience. Social media has the power to serve as much more than a bulletin board. Engage your followers in conversation instead of just announcing information. Ask for their feedback. Find out what they want from the organization. Developing an online relationship will increase conversion rates.

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Start a conversation and continue it. Pets Lifeline monitored their Facebook feed so when Renaissance Sonoma commented, they were ready with a response to further the conversation.

3. Get engaged
Just like you want engagement on your page, other pages want your engagement too! Get in the conversation. Follow like-minded groups and sponsors. React and reply to your followers’ posts. Share, with comments, what others are saying. Increasing your engagement with others will raise your social profile and expand your audience.
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Show your gratitude to other businesses on social channels, making sure to tag the business and others involved to lengthen the reach of the post, ultimately boosting engagement.  

4. Be different
Every social platform has a different style and audience. Don’t just link your accounts so the same posts hit multiple platforms. While that is the easy way , it is not the effective way. The photo you use on Instagram needs different content on Facebook. You may tag different groups on each platform. Hashtags are most effective on Twitter and Instagram. The more hashtags you use on Instagram, the larger your reach, but on Twitter your text is limited.

5. Pay to Play
We understand you might not have a social media budget. But don’t run away yet. Advertising and boosting posts on social media is one of the most cost-effective and targeted ways to increase engagement and grow your audience. Boost a post with a compelling image of why someone should donate, advertise your event or boost a post about how to join the newsletter. For as little as $25 a month, you can get great results.

We always recommend starting with the development of a strategic social media plan, especially when multiple people from one organization are responsible for social media efforts. Success can only happen when the same messaging is consistently shared with your audience. For additional information, visit www.abrightideaonline.com.