Someone recently asked me if I used the app that forecasts when Mother Nature will produce “epic light” to make sure I get the “perfect shot.” Apparently, it helps you decide whether you should photograph at sunrise or sunset. I laughed, “I don’t need an app to help me decide if I should sit on the couch or go outside. I don’t care what the weather is doing–or what time it is–I’m going outside! And I’m taking my camera!”
Don’t get me wrong, I like me some pretty color at sunrise and sunset. But if the only time you photograph the landscape is during fiery light at dawn and dusk, you are selling yourself short in your photography. Way short. Does your creativity work only during those times? Do you only have something to “say” during those hours? No, of course not!
A meaningful visual expression comes from within. It originates from our knowledge, perceptions, and emotions and extends from our ability to interpret the landscapes we see in any and all conditions we experience. It incorporates, but does not depend, on external factors such as light, weather, topography, etc.
Light and weather just “is.” It’s not inherently good or bad. Those are judgments we assign based on our expectations, which are often unreasonable and detrimental to our photography pursuits. Each variation of light we might encounter carries different perceptions and meaning. For example, direct light carries more energy, creates contrast, and grabs attention. Diffused light creates the appearance of more saturated colors and can evoke subdued, stormy, and ethereal moods. It’s up to us as photographers to understand these nuances of light and make the most of the hand Mother Nature deals us every time we go outside with a camera—regardless of what’s happening in the sky.
As Alfred Steiglitz said, “Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” I made the above photograph, which I titled “Fogged in Obscurities“ at 10:23 a. m. EST.
While wandering along Ocean Path in Acadia National Park, Maine, this past February, a heavy blanket of fog hugged the shoreline. (For those who know the joke, this was definitely a “wet fog,” not a “dry fog”… ). Waves roared into the granite cliffs. I sat down to wonder.
As I watched the scene unfold, I contemplated the story of that rock sitting on top of the ledge some 30-feet above the ocean. How did it get there? Erosion, wind, waves, or otherwise? What has that pair of intertwined evergreen trees “seen” over the course of their lives? How does it feel to be that boulder in the water getting pounded by the storm waves every few seconds? Each of these objects had a piece of the story to tell about this scene–but none were giving away their secrets.
I knew while visualizing my composition that I wanted to show the relationship between these three key elements, the unknowable story, but importance of each to complete the narrative (at least, the one in my head). The fog only enhanced the mystery…something a bright, cheery sunrise or sunset with pinks, reds, oranges, and purples in the sky could not deliver.
If you’re interested in learning more about the value and uses of natural light, pick up a copy of my 76-page “Seeing the Light in Outdoor Photography” instructional eBook at www.thepocketinstructor.com.