Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Is a sunny day really "picture perfect?"

North Falls
Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
Fujifilm XE-1, 50-200mm

If you want to make a nature photographer cringe, just say on an intensely sunny day that it's "picture perfect."

Of course the sun has its place -- glorious sunrise and sunset images and the glow of golden light right after the sun is up and an hour or so before it goes down wouldn't happen without the sun.  But for the rest of the day, the sun increases the velocity of wind and the intensity of light and contrast that seriously limits subject matter. 

I used to be more of a "picture perfect" guy until my first visit to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina 18 years ago.  The late Hugh Morton -- the iconic "caretaker" of the mountain and an accomplished photographer -- politely lit into me as I was bemoaning the rain and fog, pointing out to me how the elements can add drama and life into our images.  After all, I am creating art, not photojournalism.

Of course there are some ways to manage photography on a sunny day and there are times when the elements can be too extreme to record an image without endangering the safety of the equipment and/or the photographer.  As a guy who photographs a lot of waterfalls, an overcast day means I'll be shooting most of the day while on a sunny day there's usually a lull in the middle of the day.  The good news, though, is that most folks who go to see a waterfall, the Grand Canyon or something equally spectacular don't like to get there before sunrise or stay until after sunset.  That means more serious photographers tend to have these areas pretty much all to ourselves during the prime shooting time.

The next time it's overcast or raining a little, don't be so quick to put your camera away.  Even if you're taking a picture of the wedding party the colors will be more vibrant and saturated and harsh shadows will disappear. 

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