A Light Lesson in Nature

Understanding how light makes objects look is a critical component of being a good nature photographer.  Outdoors, you are at the whim of the sun, the moon and the stars; rarely do we bring our own, man-made illumination to the scene.  There are exceptions of course — for example, the craft of light painting or the use of fill-flash on wildlife (the latter being a debatable technique but I won’t go into that here). 

I was reminded of the power of natural lighting, and its effective use, when I was going through some images taken last fall at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, B.C.  Popular to photograph in the fall, the larches backlit by late afternoon sun stretch blazing fingers into the blue sky.  I photographed the larches backlit (below).

And frontlit (below).  What a difference in effect between the two different light directions!  Neither one is correct or incorrect.  You get to decide as a photographer what looks best based on what you are trying to achieve.  But the ability to see these differences in the field, and to make choices based on what you are seeing, is a critical skill to master.

And since reality is usually a complicated beast, being able to see the multiple ways light is falling on the land is helpful when making strategic choices about what to shoot and how to shoot it.  For example, the images below show multiple light directions.

Light is sometimes referred to as the photographer’s paintbrush, and an appreciation for and ability to view light as an artistic tool is a powerful addition to any photographer’s ‘gear’.



~ by Samantha on May 12, 2010.

3 Responses to “A Light Lesson in Nature”

  1. Excellent examples, the larch in my front yard doesn’t have the nice backgrounds.

  2. I think your example photos explain the lesson very well. I have to get up to Lake O”Hara one of these days. I’ve only been there once on skis and the scenery is spectacular there!

  3. These are great shots. I like the contrasting colors as well.

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