photography from the ground up

Working With Light

Light can be a funny thing. One minute it’s soft, throwing just the right combination of highlights and shadows across a scene; then the sun comes out of the clouds, the light becomes harsh, and your scene becomes a hodgepodge of extreme contrast. While some photographers prefer harsh light for their landscapes, I have always looked for soft diffuse light in my landscape work. Perhaps my preference has something to do with my earlier close-up/macro work. Whatever the reason, I don’t care for a lot of edgy contrast in my photography.

Lignite-And-Clinkers

In this image of lignite mounds and clinkers taken in the northern part of the Bisti Wilderness, the light is soft, but provides enough contrast to give shape to the features of the landscape.

If you think of your landscapes as portraits, which I do, this makes more sense. Any areas that are in deep shadow are hiding a part of the scene. Not only that, they are distracting and even extraneous. Crafting a fine landscape image can be much like writing an essay or novel: you have to finesse each element until it flows well with the rest of the composition. Of course there are times when you have to just accept the conditions you have and if you’re working in harsh light, you need to be aware of how to use the light to your advantage, and how to make adjustments later in post processing if necessary.

In-The-Extreme

I made this image of rabbitbrush in a wash deep in the Bisti Wilderness. The light was harsh and I was shooting almost directly into it, but the wide dynamic range of my Nikon D 800 managed to capture all the information in one exposure. I was also able to make highlight and shadow adjustments in Lightroom during post processing.

This can be accomplished in several ways. Newer cameras are pretty good at capturing wide dynamic ranges within a photograph. Often, one exposure is enough to get all the information needed to produce a good final image. If you are unable to capture all the tones in the scene, you may need to make a series of bracketed exposures and combine them later in HDR software or by blending the exposures in Photoshop. There was time, not so long ago, when I shot five exposures for every image, and then blended them in Photomatix Pro. Now I try to get it all in one exposure. I only bracket exposures under extreme conditions.

Post processing software is becoming much better at making tonal corrections; the highlights and shadows sliders in Lightroom work wonders on a high contrast image. High ISO and low-light noise reduction are also much better in the newer cameras, and the ability of editing software to deal with these problems in post is advancing quickly. So, the tools are available, making good, even great, images under extreme lighting conditions is becoming easier, and the results look better than was possible just a couple years ago.

On a final note, I use Adobe Lightroom 5 and the latest version of Photoshop CC, but there are quite a few very good options out there. On One Software’s Perfect Photo Suite is just one example.

Check out more of my work on my website: http://www.jimcaffreyimages.com

 

 

 

 

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5 responses

  1. Well done. Great result

    Like

    January 13, 2015 at 4:45 pm

  2. Excellent article Jim. I’ve finally reached that step on the ladder where I have enough experience and gear to assimilate information like this and, hopefully, become a better photographer. HDR is a very relevant topic in the snow belt at this time of year! Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

    January 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm

  3. Excellent post Jim!

    Like

    January 14, 2015 at 1:19 am

  4. Gobsmacking images. Thanks for trying ro enlighten us dimwits who just snap and play. Sorry about the puns.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 14, 2015 at 8:13 am

  5. Very nicely done!

    Like

    January 14, 2015 at 9:01 am

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