I don’t often speak about light. In order of importance it comes second after subject. There are many that disagree with me, but reading through these posts anyone could see that my discussions are always based around the subjects of my photos not the light they are in. Is it hard to take a quality photo in poor light? Yes, it can be, but what is poor light? Midday sun, overcast skies, darkness? It can be challenging to work under these and other circumstances but there are ways around them. When faced with an interesting subject that I don’t want to pass up, or perhaps will never see again, I will always try to find a way to create an interesting picture using long exposures, filters, or artificial light. The trade off is that I have to carry more stuff, which can be a problem in itself when the subjects I’m after are 10,000 feet above sea level in California’s Eastern Sierra Mountains.
In the Eastern Sierras there is little escape from the sun. From the valleys below to the tops of the alpine peaks the Eastern Sierras are desert. The sun is hot and shade is little. It is a dry place without much water, just a handful of alpine lakes and streams, all benefitting from the winter snow fall. When shooting midday I tend to shoot into the sun, photographing the shady side of things. As a rule I tend to shoot in the shade. 1) It’s cooler in the shade, and 2) the sun’s light is harsh and hard to control, so I try to avoid it as much as possible. This may sound backwards but it works. I make up for this with either artificial light (strobes) or bouncing the sun’s light back into the subject with a reflector. With both of these methods I am able to control the direction and quality of the light. This method worked wonders when photographing the gnarly, textured trunks of the foxtail pine trees that live and die in the Eastern Sierras.
An incredible photographic situation to watch for, and one solution to shooting in outer darkness, is the full moon on clear nights. With a 30 second exposure you can light up the landscape like daytime and retain the star filled sky in your image, creating a scene that appears made up and fantastical. The trade off on these bright, moonlit nights is that you can’t see as many stars. So if you’re looking for the milky way wait for a new moon.
After all of this there is of course the beautiful times of day that provide the highest quality of light to shoot under; sunrise, sunset, and of course twilight. And then there are the surprises; like the moon rising behind a giant cottonwood and reflecting the sun’s light through the dusty desert air (bottom of the page). In any event, light is nice but subject is better. If I didn’t own a camera I would still have hiked through the Eastern Sierras just to see what was there.