When it comes to photography there are a few things that are essential, but perhaps the most important aspect of a good photo is light. Light illuminates, emphasizes and enhances dull photos into works of art. Light can also, however, ruin in perfectly nice photo if used incorrectly or is too harsh. Timing this light can really make all the difference when it comes to your photography. Shooting at different times of day give photos a completely different feel and depending on how the light is hitting your subject it will drastically change how the viewer feels about the photo.
Take these two photos below; this is probably one of the most popular places to photograph the Tetons, called Schwabacher Landing. One of the photos was taken at sunrise, just as the light is hitting the mountains, lighting them up and adding warm soft light to the photo. The other was taken just as the sun was passing behind the mountains at sunset, giving little light to the scene but allowing for a great starburst effect on the last rays of light. Both photos are good photos, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that one is better than the other, but both offer completely different feelings about the scene even though they were taken just feet apart.
While time of day is very important when you are shooting its not the only thing that matter, a lot of the time it comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Good light can often come and go much faster than we can set up our equipment and compose the shot we want. Sometimes good light only lasts a matter of minutes or seconds, so when it comes along we need to be ready. I recently went to Zion National Park and hiked to the Subway. It was a bright day and because it is a fairly long hike to get to this location we didn’t arrive during ideal lighting conditions. The goal of this photo was to get soft, reflective light as it came around the bend to light up the rest of the slot canyon. I arrived to the spot and waited for light to be right. After about an hour of waiting I could tell that the light was changing. By looking at the photo metadata in Photoshop I was able to get the following information: The first photo was taken at 11:56am. As you can see the light in the tunnel is good for the most part except we are getting very harsh, direct light near the opening.
The second photo was taken at 11:59am and the sun has moved (perhaps behind a big cloud) and as you can tell the light is no longer visible in the opening. While its a fine photo the lack of the lit up entrance leaves something to be desired.
The third and best photo was taken at 12:05. We have great light; I was setup with good composition and was able to get a great photo. The light isn’t too harsh but its also not too dim. This is exactly the shot I had imagined when I went to shoot this.
The craziest thing is, the light went from too harsh to too dark to great in the span of 9 minutes! Had I given up on the light and left 10 minutes earlier I would have missed this shot completely! It just goes to show that when it comes to photography its all a waiting game for that beautiful light that will make or break your photo.
© 2014, Tony. All rights reserved.