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Techniques : Moments of Light

Light. Where would we be without it? Sunlight gives us energy. Even the fossil fuels we burn ultimately are a stored form of sunlight. But is all light the same?

As a preview I have included several pictures from the same setting from different times of day. Each represents a different moment of light captured on film. The most dramatic pictures are often taken at the extremes... either early in the morning, or later in the evening. For example, here is the base image.

"La Sal Mountains Through the Mesa Arch"
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Big Picture

Figure 1 – Nice, but lacking definition
Moments of Light Example 1

The image for Figure 1 was taken on my first trip to Canyonlands National Park (Utah) in 1997. I was just learning some of the basics of photography at the time. This picture was taken probably around two o'clock in the afternoon. The La Sal mountains are in the background, the Mesa Arch is shown in the foreground. If you know what you are looking for, you can find another named formation in the picture... down in the canyon is the Washer Woman. Given the time of day, there are very few shadows, so it can be difficult to pick out details. This is a good picture, I think, but not a very dramatic moment of light.

"Washer Woman Shadows"
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Big Picture

Figure 2 – Much more dramatic
Moments of Light Example 2

This next image was taken early one morning. While the composition is not exactly the same it is similar enough to show just how important light can be to an image. With the sunlight (just after sunrise) coming from behind the Washer Woman it is very easy to see the defined outlines of the formation. I really like this picture... if you look at it from an abstract point of view it really isn't a picture of the rock formations at all. It is a picture of light. I generally identify find five clear and distinct levels of light in this image. You may find more (or fewer) depending on how you view the image.

"Blue Morning"
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Figure 3 – Barely any light
Moments of Light Example 3

Going back in time from the previous image brings us to this image instead. This picture was taken with almost exactly the same composition, but before the sun had crested the eastern horizon. Instead of different levels of orange morning glow this image provides different levels of blue shadows. It is a little more difficult to see this image online because it is very dark, but it certainly qualifies as a definitive Moment of Light.

While all of these pictures were taken of essentially the same subject, they represent different Moments of Light.

For more on taking pictures in the early light of dawn or the late light of just before dusk, you might want to review the article on Morning Glow.

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