Posted by: kerryl29 | June 20, 2016

Thematic Interruption: Good Light

Before I wrap up my experience at Ricketts Glen State Park (the first two installments covering my time there can be found at the following links:  Part I and Part II), I want to take a moment to discuss the notion of “good light” and how it applies, at least most of the time, to waterfall and stream photography.

If you’ve spent much time reading or talking about photography you’ve almost certainly run across the idea that photography is “all about the light.”  While I think that statement is a bit of an exaggeration (there’s more to effective photography than just the light), it’s fair to say that light is critically important to photography and almost certainly more important than any other individual factor.

But what is good light, exactly?

For most people, most of the time, “good light” automatically conjures up images of “golden hour” conditions, the warm light so commonly seen within an hour or so of sunrise and sunset.  And for many subjects, this light is remarkably flattering.  Open areas of various types, as represented by the images below, really shine during the golden hour.

Morning Light, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, Arizona

Morning Light, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Approaching Storm, Palisades Picnic Area, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Approaching Storm, Palisades Picnic Area, Jasper National Park, Alberta

But there’s far more to the notion of good light than the golden hour.  Many scenes, in fact, benefit from other kinds of light.  For example, open places rendered in black and white often look their best when revealed in contrasty light–the kind of light that is often eschewed completely for color photography.

China Creek Beach from North Island Viewpoint Black & White, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from North Island Viewpoint Black & White, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

The Beach at Grand Marais black & white, Alger County, Michigan

The Beach at Grand Marais black & white, Alger County, Michigan

Heart of the Dunes black & white, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Heart of the Dunes black & white, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

 

When it comes to photographing streams and waterfalls–particularly streams and waterfalls located in wooded settings–I firmly believe that the best light is soft light (with few exceptions).   Soft light might mean overcast conditions and it might mean open shade but either way, contrast is minimized and hot spots–due to sunlight penetrating parts of a forest canopy–are eliminated.  Hot spots are unwanted bright areas, essentially randomly distributed throughout a scene, which make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep a viewer’s eye from wandering away from the the photographer’s intended subject.

Anderson Falls, Bartholomew County, Indiana

Anderson Falls, Bartholomew County, Indiana

Middle Prong of the Pigeon River, Greenbrier, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Middle Prong of the Pigeon River, Greenbrier, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Middle Falls, Old Man's Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Middle Falls, Old Man’s Cave Area, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

In fact, the vast majority of forested scenes–whether they include water in them or not–benefit from soft, even lighting conditions.

Along the Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image Made 2008

Along the Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

A Celebration of Color, Morton Arboretum, Du Page Country, Illinois

A Celebration of Color, Morton Arboretum, Du Page Country, Illinois

Spring Wildflowers, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Spring Wildflowers, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Images that feature reflection abstracts almost always benefit from the creative use of sunlit subjects–a clear exception to the no-sun/water “rule.”

Reflections, Maligne River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Reflections, Maligne River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Water Abstract, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Water Abstract, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

The point is, the practical definition of “good light” depends…on the subject matter and on the emotion you’re trying to project.  Good light is the product of a set of circumstances, not an inherently objective thing.  To the extent possible, try to utilize light rather than being used by light.  If the light isn’t good for your subject, search for a subject that you feel favors the light (and return to the first spot when the light flatters that subject).

Advertisements

Responses

  1. This post is the corollary to the expression “there’s no bad light.” For me, one of the hardest parts about photography is learning to read the light and make the most of what you have.

    • I think it can really help to try to determine the kinds of things–in terms of subject/emotion–that work (as you see it) in different lighting conditions (like waterfalls in soft light). That makes it much easier to plan…for different locations, different subjects, different ways to approach different subjects (intimate, wide, etc.). If you can do that, you’re way ahead of the curve, but ultimately, it’s a set of decisions that you have to reach yourself. You can talk about it with others, but you may have a different sensibility about what’s flattering to what than someone else.

  2. Ah, this post hits the sweet spot Kerry, as do the accompanying images. It’s remarkable how often light that’s “just right” happens along when there seem to be no suitable subjects around. But oh man, when it happens…

    • Thanks very much, Tom. No doubt about it, when everything really comes together, it’s special.

  3. The light seems to follow you from place to place!

    • That would be nice. 🙂

  4. Superb images.

  5. Kerry: You never fail to amaze me, my friend.

    • Thanks–that’s extremely kind of you to say.

  6. I’m slow in catching up with my reading, but I wanted to start with this post, and I’m glad I did. Your choice of illustrative images was superb. It was easy to grasp the points you were making, and to see how different light qualities could bring quite different results.

    The third and fourth photos really appeal. It’s a different kind of “golden light.” There’s a delicacy there that I rarely see in photographs. Of course, the nature of the scenery contributes to that, too.

    One thing I’ve been doing is spending time at sunset, photographing the sky and clouds using manual settings. It’s been a good way to learn how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO work together. I just keep tweaking until what I see in the camera is what I see in reality: at least, more or less. It certainly does sensitize a person to how quickly the light can change!

    • Thanks. The fourth image in the sequence is revealing what is known as “storm light,” which can often be quite unique and almost impossible to describe. It’s one of those things that needs to be seen.

      Good move to experiment with all of the manual settings. (I’m a big advocate of shooting landscape without relying on the camera’s choice of any settings and always establish all of the exposure triad settings manually myself.) It’s really the only way to learn, and with the feedback of digital capture, it’s possible to become quite facile with all of this in a matter of days, if not hours.

      And, yes, at the very beginning and very end of the day, the light changes by the minute. I often find myself tweaking exposure by 1/3 stop multiple times within the span of 60-90 seconds.

  7. Wonderful post, Kerry, with your images illustrating your points so well. Evocative images with such great explanations – you’ve given me food for thought.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. And thanks for taking the time to review these older entries.

  8. […] talked at some length on this blog about the merits of overcast conditions when photographing creeks and waterfalls in […]

  9. […] have I said repeatedly on this blog?  Let the quality of light and weather conditions dictate your photographic subject/location choices.  This is something I always do.  And I’ve pointed out that overcast […]

  10. […] I decided to spend the day in a location that was well-suited for the weather conditions, so I headed south on I-93 to Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire–about a 30-minute drive from St. Johnsbury.  A guidebook that I’d purchased before the trip gave me some details about a couple of trails in the park filled with waterfalls and streams–good subjects for overcast conditions, as I constantly preach. […]


Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: