Years ago when I began to learn how to shoot landscapes all I ever heard was that “landscape photographers needed to photograph in the GOLDEN HOURS or else your images are trash”. So I would get up on the weekends at “0 stupid thirty” in the AM and head out to capture sunrise images, or I would spend the early afternoons on those weather/cloud tracking websites waiting to see IF there was a chance of a good sunset. The golden hours WERE the rule, and who was I to challenge THE RULE that so many other successful photographers adhered to. How many of you have done the same thing? But what happens when you travel and the trip revolves around photographing where you are traveling?
So you have planned out your “photo-cation” down to the last minute detail around being in certain spots for the golden light but Ol’ Mother Nature decides to give you boring skies with no clouds..what do you do? I know this has happened to me before and I felt totally deflated by not being able to capture those dreamy cloud filled sky images so many others had before me. But instead of letting those boring skies win out and send me home without any good images I realized that I didn’t really need clouds or to shoot in the golden hours to be a good outdoor/landscape photographer, and thus began my quest to refine my understanding of what it takes to shoot in harsh light. After a lot of trial and error I think I have a good grip on it now and with a huge photo-cation coming up this summer I decided that I needed to get some practice in before that trip happens and give myself a “self assignment” to sharpen my minds eye, and also pass along some of my knowledge to you.
To shoot in the harsh mid-day sunlight you need to learn to see your shots differently than you would in the golden hours. In the golden hours the light can be amazing and the compositions can just be right there with inspiration seemingly everywhere, but in harsh flat light it sometimes requires a bit more of studying what you are photographing to come up with a winning composition. For me when I shoot in the mid day (10am-2pm give or take depending on the time of year) I look for the details instead of shooting vast scenics. These images are more intimate as they require you to ‘be with nature’ instead of a voyeur from afar. I also at times will think think in monochrome, or B&W because you sometimes have more creative freedom to push the boundaries. So when I am thinking in monochrome I ignore the colors and focus on the shapes and shadows. I also really concentrate on composition because that IS the main thing that is going to make or break a monochrome image. With monochrome I find it easier to think “what could be” instead of what is.
Another thing I have found that helps me be more creative is I went back to my roots and began shooting with prime lenses. Shooting with prime lenses forces you to work the scenes instead of standing in one spot quickly shooting simply by zooming in or out. Having just one or two on you frees you up and makes you work hard to see compositions that normally you might miss. Usually I prefer a 50mm, along with a 20mm, but on this assignment I decided I needed to be thinking a little wider, so I only used a 35mm.
Another thing to look for is contrast between colors, and trying to use that bright sun to your advantage. This image here I used the sun to backlight the petals while using the rich blue sky as a backdrop to those white petals. Also having a little bit of lens flare I enjoy as it really shows how bright it was.
And lastly, keeping on the subject of details and prime lenses, I have found that primes allow you to capture images that you normally might not be able to with a zoom lens as primes can offer a shallower depth of field (DOF), and be sharper throughout the frame. So I am always looking for interesting subjects to photograph with lots of cool shapes and textures, which is what I found here…
This is a detail shot of a huge boulder. I found the colors and shapes very interesting, and if I had not been out in the mid day sun those colors would’ve not jumped out to me. Below is an example of how shooting at f/1.8 helps isolate the subject to make it the hero of the shot..
..even having an f/2.8 zoom lens might not give you a shallow enough DOF to make this shot happen.
To wrap this up, I am not saying that shooting in mid day harsh light is my choice, but if that is all you have to shoot in then learning how to make the best of it gives you another tool in your bag to make it work for you and not waste some opportunities to create.
Oh, one more thing..all these images were shot within a one hour period on my self-assignment just to prove my point. *smile*
Thanks for reading!