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Photo Tip - Light and Time | Insight Guides Blog

Photo Tip - Light and Time

Light and Shadow, (photo by Sylvaine Poitau)
Light and Shadow

With the co-operation of weather (by no means guaranteed), the time of day has an extraordinary effect on light and images. Provided that you are not rushing at breakneck speed through one destination after another, this is the lighting variable that can offer you the greatest measure of control.
Being patient is a kind of passive control, but by learning to anticipate the angle and colour of light that will best suit a scene, you are able to plan a day’s shooting during which you extract the maximum creative effect for your landscapes and shots of people, buildings and monuments. 

Angle and shadows

The sun’s passage through the sky has a major effect on the quality of light, in particular the angle at which the light falls on a scene, and the resulting shadows it casts. All this assumes that there is sufficient sunlight to cast those all-important shadows. Shadows are important in so much travel photography because they enhance texture, bring contrast of tone and even colour. Under a clear sky, they will be more blue than the sunlit areas, and this can be particularly pleasing early and late in the day.

Sweet light

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite, the warm, raking light from a low sun, either within the first two hours of morning daylight or the last two of the afternoon (the period of time is shorter in the tropics where the sun rises and sets almost vertically, longer in higher latitudes where its angle of ascent and descent is more gradual).
Some photographers call it “golden” light. It’s great for landscapes because its raking angle heightens texture and throws longer shadows, and it’s good for tallish subjects like people and buildings because it lights one side fully. The deep warmth of the light is also attractive, although this is something you can enhance or moderate easily during processing.

A further advantage is that the sun is located well into one part of the sky, so you have a choice of shooting angles that vary from away from the sun, into the light, or at right angles. The feeling and character of each of these is different. Shooting into the light in particular has the potential for strong atmosphere and mood. But beyond these logical and photographic reasons, most of us simply like the lighting at these times of day, and enjoy it just as tourists.
So, if you respond to the conventionally attractive, this period of the day early and late is prime photography time, good and useful for almost all subjects. In fact is it is often hard not to take a good picture in this light, provided the composition is right, of course.
Nevertheless, exercise caution in always relying on or wanting this kind of daylight, because you will often simply not have it available. This is where making the most of other kinds of light becomes important, as we’ll now see.

High sun

As the sun rises higher, its colour becomes more neutral (white) and the shadows it casts become smaller and usually denser, falling underneath objects and people rather than to one side. This is especially true of the tropics, and if you are new to tropical travel, the effect may be harsher and less pleasant than you expected.
A portrait with the sun high overhead, for example, will have hard-edged shadows under the eyebrows, nose and chin, which is quite the opposite of conventionally attractive lighting. If the person is wearing a hat, then the entire face will be locked into deep shadow, and the contrast range will be high – probably too high for the camera sensor if they are wearing a light-coloured hat, which is more than likely in tropical heat.
The effect on most landscapes is, perhaps surprisingly, the opposite, making it seem flat. So what is good about a high sun for photography? Well, you can use the high contrast of light and shade to advantage by making strongly graphic compositions, always remembering to underexpose sufficiently to retain highlights and keep the shadow shapes as deep silhouettes. And if a portrait with those unfamiliar shadows isn’t conventional, does it even matter? It can be striking and unusual. Look also for bounced lighting from bright streets into the shadows.  

Sunrise and sunset

There is no exact point at which the sweet “golden” light of a low sun turns into the classic sunrise or sunset shot, but everyone recognises these standard images of travel photography. Technical matters of exposure and focal length apart, the issue for serious photographers is how to avoid the image looking like a postcard cliché.  Sunrises can be more peaceful than sunsets, but judging the exact spot (for instance, exactly behind Bear and Rabbit Rocks in Arizona’s Monument Valley) means knowing the exact time of sunrise and realising that the sun will rise to the right of its pre-dawn horizon glow.  

Dusk and darker

While you’ll see many sunset photographers packing up as the sun disappears, skies can often get more interesting a little later – not necessarily immediately, but after many minutes. The dusk glow in a clear sky, and the sudden flash as high clouds light up red, are bonus events that justify waiting in case they happen.
Shading of tone and colour are made all the more intense by using a wide-angle lens that takes in more of the sky. If the sky is good, consider making it the main area of your composition, keeping the skyline low in the frame.
Turning away from the sunset or sunrise, dusk can have a dark softness that can be atmospheric, provided that you keep the exposure dark (dusk ought to be dark). The colour temperature rises, giving a natural blue cast that you do not necessarily need to correct and neutralise.  

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman: Image by Kevin Cummins


Taken from Travel Photography - How to take striking Images currently available at a promotional price of only £1.49 or $2.99 



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