Just a Little Trick of the Light

Ansel Adams is famous for saying; “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” When you have glorious lighting your job as a photographer is relatively easy. Compose the image, expose correctly, focus accurately on your subject, and you’ll likely bring home an excellent image. What do you do when you don’t have good light? Often times in the mountains I run across days, even entire weeks, where the light is flat and everything is gray and drab. How do you bring home a good photograph in those conditions?

If you have partially cloudy day you’re dealing with you could stake out a spot and wait for a change in the light, or you could look for interesting cloud formations that reinforce your images theme. Using light/dark contrasts can yield a good image. Silhouette a dark tree, or spider web, against an overcast sky for example. Often the soft light on cloudy day can give photographic opportunities that would be difficult to shoot on a sunny day. Or you can do what lots of photographers do and go home. Myself I enjoy being in the mountains regardless of the weather.

The photograph of the spider web above was taken on a foggy morning with very flat lighting. The heavy dew that resulted from the foggy weather was one condition I needed, the flat light was the other factor that made shooting this scene possible. Often adverse weather conditions can be the photographers friend. Any competent photographer can shoot a beautiful sunset, or sunrise, but it takes a keen eye and creativity, to come up with a good image in poor conditions. Interesting weather can add atmosphere, or mood if you prefer, to an image. 

The image above was shot near the end of a early autumn storm. The light was dead flat and pretty much everything was white. Those were precisely the conditions needed for this shot. Normally you wouldn’t notice the little touch of fall colour but with the lack of colour throughout most of the image the autumn colour now really draws the viewer’s eye. Cloudy days can also be used to extend your day as a photographer. One normally doesn’t shoot in harsh afternoon light but a cloudy day can yield some interesting soft light allowing you to shoot right through the afternoon.

Above is a shot from Sunshine Meadows taken on a hazy, cloudy, afternoon. The weather conditions made it just right for a moody black and white image. The image below was photographed on a partially cloudy afternoon with a good stiff breeze present. Conditions out on the lake were quite rough but the more sheltered area at the outlet of the lake allowed me to get a good reflection and the clouds added some interest while giving nice soft lighting conditions. There is never gain without a sacrifice though! To get the composition I wanted I had to wade out into the outlet stream through some nice soft mud. That always feels nice oozing through your toes! Ultimately your day out with the camera is what you, the photographer, make of it. Enjoy!