Monday, October 6, 2014

Bad Light Can Be Good Light

Superior waves, Artist Point, Grand Marais, Minnesota
 Our workshop group had just finished dinner. A warm delicious meal, a glass of wine (or two) mixed with a comfy indoor atmosphere after a successful day treasure hunting for photographs in iffy weather, the day's canvas painted a nice conclusion to a rewarding day.

Just outside blowing in off Lake Superior in Grand Marais, Minnesota, the weather was getting windy, cold and misty. Many had decided they had enough challenging light for the day and entertaining a "few more" night photos might push them over the top. I had mentioned that when the waves really start kickin up a fuss, shooting just after dusk can offer some wonderful visual opportunities. I averaged about .500 in talking several folks into one more hour of working the bad light and off we went with jackets and tripods in hand.

(Click On Images To Enlarge)

There is a magic time for photographing in the evening hours. It happens just after the sun sets and runs until it's dark. Once it's dark, it's done. 

Well, that is if you want any ambient light to continue to be part of your photograph. In order for your image to have that all important third dimensional look to it, you need to still posses some ambient light to define your foreground and background. Without it, the light in your image just rests in a sea of blackness with a two-dimensional look.

With subject matter like moving water, especially bigger wave action, long exposures can soften those waves into a fog like appearance.  Using your tripod, you can even keep your ISO at lower numbers retaining clarity. However, you will notice an increase in exposure is necessary every few minutes as light rapidly diminishes. So, keep checking your image.

During the exposure in the above photograph, 30 seconds, f/10 at 400 ISO, I did a few exposures without the add'tl kicker light of my headlamp. Then, for a few frames to mix it up, I used a low setting of red light on my headlamp to paint light over the foreground rocks during the 30 seconds to splash in some color. I love the red/blue combo in night images. To obtain the blue, I set my white balance to incandescent to give me that sexy, moody blue light.

Headlamps from approaching vehicle cast a eery glow in the fog along the Gunflint Trail in N.E. Minnesota.
Driving down out of the Superior National Forest in N.E. Minnesota, the Gunflint Trail, a paved road that runs inland about sixty miles from Lake Superior, is gateway to numerous entry points to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Fog blanketed the Trail near the famed "Pines" area and the eery headlamp glow from an approaching vehicle peaked our interest and knew it would make a strong image. 

I explained from a content perspective including the white pines adds valuable  information to the image as it is an iconic location along the 60 miles. This stand of old growth trees is an historic part of the Gunflint Trail and shooting the fog as a vertical provided an image with more than just a pretty photograph. It is a photo with history to it. Don't shoot just the glow, but the sense of place too.

Shot at 1.3/sec. at f/22 at ISO 100. I didn't need f/22 for depth of field. Fog really prohibits any reason for depth. But, my intentions were to offer a variety of options with moving vehicles. What had initially captured my attention was that glow rising up behind the hill. I knew it was a car, but it was the glow I liked so I didn't need to see car itself to identify what was creating it. I kept my fingers crossed that more than one vehicle would drive by so I got my "glow" photo first. Then, with any other passing car I could get streaks of light, as opposed to just a stop-action pair of headlights, thus my reason for shooting at f/22. It allowed me a longer exposure and more length to the streaking lights in the photograph. But, in the end, I stuck with my initial reaction to the glowing light.

Fall colors along Hwy 61, N.E. Minnesota
We've all been out shooting in the Fall wanting to capture the explosion of color. It's amazing how the color changes with the quality of sunlight. And, how it changes with the diffused light of cloudy days. Heck, a bright overcast day usually provides me with more success shooting the fall season than bright sunny days.

But, what do you do on a really f/dark day? One solution is to paint with light. Use a slow shutter speed, hand hold your long lens and move the camera while exposing. Go up and down, side to side, make circles both small and large. You'll be amazed what you can come up and how striking and unique this sort of approach to lousy light can create visual magic. This image was made at 1/5th sec. at f/22 on ISO 200.

And finally, ready for bed, you pull into your lodging location and notice some pretty cool light on the garage and ground in front of you. There's no reason to pull out the gear again and shoot this, right? It's just a parking lot next to your cabin. But, the misty, cloudy light is doing something it doesn't do any other night. So, why not take a few extra minutes and satisfy your curiosity. After all, there's plenty of time to sleep when your dead.

Ok, now go to bed!