It's Good to be Bad
I have to admit; usually I play by the rules. As a child I avoided any type of rule breaking. Fear kept me out of trouble: Fear of my mother’s response to my trouble making. As an adult I continue to follow the straight and narrow (most of the time). Given my penchant for following the rules, I began my photographic career in the same vein. I tried following one of the most important photographic rules: The best time to photograph landscapes is an hour before and after sunrise and the same amount of time around sunset. More important than the “golden hour” rule is: Do not photograph landscapes during the harsh mid-day light. Having lived on this earth for almost forty years, I can safely say, rules are meant to be broken.
I believe the “golden hour” rule is one of those rules beckoning to be broken. “Why?” you might be asking yourself. Usually I have a limited amount of time on my photographic trips. I don’t relish the idea of photographing only twice a day. Increasing the amount of time I photograph in a day, gives me opportunities to understand the landscape, thus creating more photographs. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve created many beautiful photographs during the “golden hours.” Equally, I have created just as many beautiful photographs during the mid-day sun. In the following article I will describe two different scenarios leading to one conclusion. A good photographer can create beautiful photographs in any type of light.
Yosemite National Park, the pinnacle for most landscape photographers. I was excited about my trip and a little apprehensive; I only had one week to photograph the area.
With such a limited amount of time, I wanted to photograph as much as I could. The first day was spent acclimating to the time change and landscape. Managing to figure out (plus with some book research) where some of the best vantage points were, I began my typical routine. I’d wake up before sunrise, travel to a vantage point; arriving too late for a good photograph. I was out of synch; I couldn’t seem to get my act together. When I would arrive on time for either a sunrise or sunset Mother Nature wouldn’t cooperate with me. Didn’t she know I was attempting to photograph landscape masterpieces? After only two days of this I realized I was running out of time, fast. Out of shear frustration I decided to photograph during the harsh light of mid-day.
When I photograph in the mid-day sun I modify my technique somewhat. As always, I try to pre-visualize my compositions but I also have to be spontaneous, going with what Mother Nature hands me. For example, if a cloudless sky is at hand, I will exclude the sky. If clouds are present, however, I will include the sky along with using a circular polarizing filter to deepen the blue sky and intensify the clouds. Of course there are times where the light is too harsh. I’ve observed the worst times, at least during the summer months, usually run between one and four pm. Atmospheric haze usually contributes to poor quality photos created during mid-day light. I have tried using polarizer’s, graduated filters and UV filters; none of them help.
My photographic juices began flowing as soon as I started photographing during all hours of the day. With my time options open, I had more opportunities to create memorable photographs of Yosemite. I won’t say all my photographs were perfect, but I created more beautiful photographs than if I would have limited my time to the “golden hour”.
My next scenario happened closer to home.
Black Fork Bottoms Nature Preserve is one of my favorite local parks. One of ten parks included in the Ashland County Park District (the county in Ohio to which I reside) the preserve is a large swamp and forest along with an adjacent former farm returned to a large prairie area. Various waterfowl, raptors, and mammals can be observed at the preserve including: American Coots, Common Golden Eye, Mute Swans, Red Tail Hawk, American Bald Eagle, raccoons, red squirrels, whitetail deer and muskrats.
Deciding to photograph the first light of spring, per usual, I followed the photographic “golden rule.” Waking up early, I packed my gear and drove to the preserve. I hiked to a spot where there was potential for a dramatic sunrise. Standing there, composition created, settings set, I quickly realized there wasn’t going to be a sunrise. I made the best of my situation by creating a few photographs of waterfowl and trees silhouetted in the sun. Frustrated, discouraged and hungry, I left the preserve, grabbing some breakfast on the way home.
While eating, I happen to look out my kitchen window and noticed beautiful, bright white cumulus clouds floating in the deep blue sky. I realized immediately this could be an excellent opportunity to photograph the preserve. Again I broke the rules. This time it was to create better photographs than earlier ones created during the “golden hours”. I packed up my gear once again and traveled back to the preserve. I began by photographing along the swamps shoreline. I used the same techniques as in the previous scenario with one exception: I now had a smooth body of water to use as my foreground. The clouds and sky reflected in the water and adding drama to the photographs. I used an 11-18mm wide angle zoom lens with my tripod setting low emphasizing the blue cloud-filled sky. Using these techniques, I made an Ohio sky feel like the big sky country of Montana. Yes, I broke the rules and I liked it.
The next time you’re in a photographic rut, try breaking one or all the “rules” of photography. You’ll have fun and discover new ways to photograph landscapes. Even previously photographed landscapes can look new by breaking the “rules of photography”. It’s good to be bad.