Photography: When the Light is Right

October 09, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

     Photography is all about the light. And not just any light. We all know that the key to the most wonderful outdoor photography is to shoot at those perfect times of day: the hour right around dawn, and the gorgeous pre and post sunset moments.

     The light at those times is at its most soft and beautiful, there are no harsh shadows. Whether you're shooting a landscape, a person, or a bug - it's sure to look its best.

     This weekend I took a workshop from the terrific photographer and UC Davis professor Terry Nathan, and we had a good discussion on just this subject. His view is that there are opportunities at every time of day, and I am coming around to his perspective. It is true that noontime photography offers its own challenges. But I like to think that for most challenges there is a solution, and perhaps even a creative opportunity.

     I'm a shadow fan, for instance. The hours when terrific shadows can be found extend far deeper into the day than the golden hours of dusk and dawn. And as noon approaches, it might be time to think macro, or to find some light-evening shade.

     On the other side of the clock, we all know that darkness can also be a photographer's friend. Few things are cooler than the images that emerge from longer exposures taken in so-called "utter darkness".

     Terry's workshop took place in the high Sierra, just as the fall colors were beginning to gain drama. It took place from 9 a.m. to 1:30. We walked around a barren, rock-strewn area, and shot interesting, granite-punctuated landscapes. We walked up a hillside and shot colorful aspens, their leaves backlit by the high sun. And we experimented with macro shots of barbed wire and nails in the boards of a crumbling old corral.

     We talked a lot about composition, and the diversity of photo opportunities within a very short range. But we had no complaints about the light we were dealing with. It was easy to find things to photograph wonderfully.

     The bottom line is pretty obvious. You are where you are, when you are there. You cannot be everywhere at dawn or dusk. Certainly there are images that are most wonderfully captured in that light, and in an ideal world, you can plan to be at the right spot with the best possible lighting condition. But wherever you are, and whatever the light, there is almost surely an image that can be ideally captured for that place and time.

     I would like to see the aspen colors at dawn or dusk, but this weekend I saw those brilliant yellow trees throughout the day. I shot the picture below at about 2 in the afternoon. Would it have been better at another time of day? It would certainly have been different.

     Like so many of life's activities, photography has rules. And as is always the case, breaking the rules can lead to a good result. Photography is all about the light, and exploring ways to make it work for you, at any time of day, is a big part of the creative joy of this captivating pursuit.

 

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