It’s probably no great overestimation to state that light is everything in a photograph. It is the physical and emotional core. It is the element required to stimulate our digital sensors and illuminate our pieces of flimsy light sensitive plastic dipped in chemicals. The range of tonalities between light and shadow is where our story explodes into life. When photographing in the natural world I predominantly shoot during the extreme margins of light. The hour before the sun has risen and hour after the sun has set allows the ambient light to gently fill the environment, softening the colours and eliminating the distracting shadows. I feel this subtly detaches the photographs from often perceived reality and adds a sense of timelessness and mystery. This post is not to say you should avoid harsh mid-day shadows when photographing an environment or landscape. On the contrary, explore what effect they create for you. The key is understanding how they effect the mood of the photograph as we will explore a little here.
Lighthouse and cottage - Aireys Inlet VIC
Top - 40 min after sunset, 25 second exposure. Bottom - Midday, location scouting image.
On a bright sunny day the direct, unfiltered light cascading down from high above creates hard shadows that can be distracting to a scene. Lets have a look at the lighthouse image on the bottom which was taken on a location scout during the afternoon. Notice how the light is coming down from the top left of frame, fracturing the scene with strongly defined shadows. You can see this pronounced effect on the lighthouse, chimneys and bushes along the lawn. There is no detail information inside the house or in the dark areas below the shrubs. To me this lighting situation is far from ideal, the colours are washed out, the sky is bland and the emotion is severely lacking. Returning to the location eight hours later as the sun set over my shoulder I was able to capture the image above. Notice how there are no longer any distracting shadows in the scene and the colours have been brought into a rich and vibrant saturation. Even the orange flowers in the foreground have come alive in the late evening light. Every time we are able to remove a piece of irrelevant information, both conceptual and physical from our frame, we get one step closer to the essence of our story. Distracting elements dilute the communication.
(Note: Both images are straight out of camera without processing).
Boathouse - Anglesea VIC
Top - Midday, location scouting image. Bottom - 30 min after sunset, 50 second exposure.
There were a few street lights off in the distance to camera left. I anticipated that once the ambient daylight level dropped the orange spill from the lights would illuminate the trees and grass. I feel the contrast between the orange light and cool blue sky and water creates a dynamic balance.