Taking Photos in Harsh Light - Break the Rules

May 06, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

The grand purpose as a photographer is to capture light. Or capture the light that we see, right? We can wax philosophically about this all day long about chasing the good light and opportunities. But why not chase some bad light as well? I may be in the minority here, but get out and chase good light, and bad light. Ansel Adams had said, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” This is no exception. We talk about how to break other rules in photography for composition and such, why not break this one too?

The fact of the matter is that we can’t all be famous world traveling photographers that are out for the specific purpose of taking photos. But hey; we can all dream though, right? Of course we can. And we should take advantage of the times and opportunities we can get. And sometimes the only opportunity we get is going out at lunchtime or after the parts of the day that may be optimal. We can use these less than optimal times to really hone in our skills.

Taking advantage of these less than optimal conditions can provide us with a unique look at our subjects. And by unique I mean simply that you can take a scene or subject and quite literally show it in a different light. Using one of my favorite local cascades as the example I’ll show you some of what you can capture in these conditions, and will give you some tips on why you can use these conditions to your advantage.

In the first photo I took advantage of the top down light, and with a polarizer I was able to see “inside” this particular part of the cascade and see the rock and texture in the water. It made for a nice change to see what helps shape the water as it flows but also see the smoothness of that flow in that spot before it crashes and churns below. Being able to see the texture of the water, while seeing the texture of the rocks that create this particular cascade I found to be particularly interesting. Gave me a feel like I was looking into a terrarium seeing the different colors and textures present in water that was moving as quickly as it was.

In the next photo I took advantage of using a wider aperture and a neutral density filter to capture the motion of the cascade and get a nice milky flow of the water, but with the sunlight at the angle that it is it glistened off the droplets coming off the short falls creating some texture in the milky waterfall without having to composite two different images. Under normal conditions in order to capture both you would need to have an image showing all of the motion, but then another image to overlay that would show the water droplets and the texture. In fact without the light falling the way it is, you might not be able to capture the prismatic effect the water droplets are creating.

In this last photo, I used the same setup and zoomed into a portion of the cascade to get the water running over the moss covered rocks in these small cascading falls. This allowed me to capture the detail and color in that area while being able to capture the motion of the water without sacrificing any of that detail and color. The contrast between the lighter sunlit water, and the deeper and darker colors of the moss and rock ledge gives this image some contrast and depth that you may not have gotten at other times of the day.

What we get out of doing this is being able to use these conditions to our advantage in order to obtain sharp and detailed images with greater clarity. You can also use high contrast between light and dark areas during midday to create a dramatic effect in your photos. The bright sunlight can also help you achieve greater depth of field with a narrower aperture, allowing you to capture more depth in your images. This goes especially for wildlife photographers. If the conditions are especially bright where you can close your aperture a little while maintaining a quick shutter, you can really capture some great motion and/or drama in your wildlife photos. But at the end of the day, if you can master these less than optimal conditions you can capture the light no matter the situation with confidence. I hope this helps inspire you to get out at all hours of the day and night to capture photos, regardless of the light.



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