Waiting for the Right Light

May 08, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

WAITING FOR THE RIGHT LIGHT

Melissa Southern

 

 

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We all know that photography is about light. Even an ordinary subject can look magical in the right light. However, as nature photographers, we have to find the right light, or simply wait for it. Kyle and I were in the waterfall country of North and South Carolina over the past few days for our Waterfalls of the Carolinas Field Trip. We have spent a lot of time at the North Carolina waterfalls over the years, so we headed to South Carolina to do a little scouting before meeting our group. 

 

Most of the waterfalls that we scouted that day were not in the best light at all. They were south facing falls, meaning that if the sun is out, there is a lot of glare on the waterfall most of the day. We did not get any great photos of those waterfalls, but as it was a scouting day, the point was to find them, check out the amount of water, confirm directions and parking information, and rate the hike to each waterfall.

 

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Contrasty, Afternoon Light Soft, Early Morning Light
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HDR of Contrasty, Afternoon Light

 

Towards the end of our scouting day, we visiting Twin Falls in South Carolina. The light was terrible as it was very bright on the top of the falls and in shade at the bottom. We took some photos anyway, including some high dynamic range (HDR) sets. HDR is simply taking a bracketed series of photos (i.e. with different exposures) of the same subject that can later be combined in software to maintain detail throughout the entire image from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows. We decided that this would be a good waterfall to bring our group to as the hike was short and easy and allowed access to the stream below the falls. We arrived very early the next morning, before the sun climbed over the ridge, which left the entire waterfall in shade. We had a great time shooting the waterfall from different angles and in different sections. Once we were done there, we spent more time along the stream shooting various scenes there. In this case, success was about having a compass with us and knowing approximately where the sun would rise, what time it would rise, and how it would traverse across the sky. By arriving early at this waterfall, we were able to maximize our shooting time in the right light, and there was the added bonus of being the only people there for most of the time that we were shooting.

 

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Contrasty, Midday Light Soft, Late Afternoon Light
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HDR of Contrasty, Midday Light

 

After our morning shoot at Twin Falls, we journeyed back to North Carolina and visited one of our favorites, Eastatoe Falls. As we suspected, the light was pretty harsh since it was almost noon before we arrived. We shot some anyway, again using HDR. We also used our telephoto lenses to isolate sections of the waterfall that interested each of us. It is amazing to see the variety that everyone found on this one waterfall. Because of its beauty and accessibility, we decided that we had to come back later in the day when the light would be better. We went to lunch and took a "recharging" break at the hotel. As the day slipped into the later afternoon, we set out again for Eastatoe Falls and found it in full shade. We spent more time shooting the entire falls, isolated sections of the falls, and even some macro of insects and flowers near the falls. Waiting for the light to even out was key to having success here, just like at Twin Falls. 

 

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Nature photography is often more about patience than anything else, whether we are shooting waterfalls, flowers, or wildlife. Sometimes we have to find the right light, and sometimes we have to simply wait for it. Having a basic knowledge of the movement of the sun and moon can make all the difference in knowing how long you will have to wait. And, yes, there's an app for that! Nature photography is not only capturing moments; it is learning about the world around us and gaining a greater understanding and appreciation for it.

 

Happy Shooting!


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