After the golden hour

ISO 100, 37mm, f/6.3, three image HDR + B&W conversion

There’s a lot to be said for the light available just before sunrise.  Muted, diffuse, saturated, etc. are all terms I’ve heard used to describe the light and the effect it has on subjects.  It’s a desirable light source when you want an even illumination over a large area.  What it is not is contrasty and sometimes you want a combination of the two.  Brightly lit areas in the photo combined with distinct shadows that still reveal plenty of detail help add dimensionality to an image.

The scene above was made about 5 minutes after the sun came over the horizon.  I picked this spot because the angle of the light would cut across the jagged rocks unevenly, illuminating some areas while casting irregular shadows in others.  In the pre-sunrise light the whole scene was very evenly lit with a low dynamic range.  As a result it looked pretty flat, even with the reflection.  By waiting just a few minutes I was able to pick the amount of highlight and shadow I wanted to deliver the best composition.  There was a slight breeze that morning so the water isn’t mirror smooth, but I like how the reflection is broken up into an abstract.  Its softer appearance balances the sharper edges of the rocks being reflected.

I like the repeating elements of how the rocks tilt down to the water and how the angle reveals the work of the water on the lower part of the rocks, washing away the softer portions to leave the sturdier parts slightly overhanging the water’s edge.

Being at a place at just the right time is more than where the hands on the clock lie.  At higher latitudes the sun swings not only from east to west but from south to north as well so in addition to knowing the time of desired light you also have to know the season.  It’s one frustration of the landscape photographer who can’t simply add more strobes to put light where it’s most needed.  Another frustration is scouting out great compositions only to realize you’re six months away from the best light.

Really great landscape photographs are usually the result of an ongoing relationship with a scene, an intimate awareness of the way light moves across it throughout the day and year to generate moods useful to telling a story about the place.  One advantage of being at a place continually is seeing how it changes, to learn how to predict when the scene delivers the look you want.  The internet can provide many resources to understand light’s direction and timing, but being there continues to be the best teacher.


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