Nothing has influenced the way I see in nature more than learning to work with light, and its many qualities. This seems to me like an endless process, one that I will never be able to complete in my lifetime. Yet each experience I have teaches me something profound, both mentally and emotionally.
Working with light is photography at its essence, where everything else is stripped away and all that is left is your vision and intuition about how to convey what you feel. I know, we all want to know more about settings, lenses, exposure, best use of everything we have in our camera bags. So at the end of the post I will share the details.
We are so distracted by the technology and complexity of digital photography these days, that this essence is missing most of the time. So here’s a useful exercise- put the magazines down, shut the computer off, put a camera around your neck with one lens (yes, leave the backpack home), and find your favorite spot in nature close to your home.
Then just look. (Feel free to substitute look with watch, see, feel, and breathe)
Observe how the light changes throughout the day, or in different weather conditions. Study not only what it does to the landscape around you, but how it affects you and your emotions. Notice how the same tree can evoke different feelings, and symbolize different ideas based on your own perceptions and experiences.
This level of thinking requires passion, study, time, and more time. Is it worthwhile? Only you can answer that for yourself. What does photography mean to you, and most important, why do you photograph? This is a question I have asked here more than once, but for me deserves re-thinking every day.
Zen Trees is an image I recently made while hiking during heavy fog conditions. Working in fog is difficult, since the direction of light, the little that there is, is crucial to the success of the image. The same ideas apply as in direct light, but here they are so subtle, and the light so soft that you really have to watch how it changes carefully.
Also, the drama that we normally have with direct light is not quite the same, so composition is crucial. Here I was just trying to emulate many of my favorite landscape paintings, where the light is soft, yet the forest is seems lit from the side so that shadows are minimal. Color was also on my mind as I tried to frame the different shades of green to greatest effect.
Camera settings are 1/40 sec, f/4, 32mm, ISO 800. It was relatively dark, so I wanted as fast a shutter speed as possible to minimize leaf movement. A forest scene is more forgiving with higher ISO’s, so I wasn’t worried about using 800 on this camera, which I know has great high ISO performance. (Knowing every aspect of your gear is important here).
The rest is just working with the composition until it feels cohesive, but also with some tension created by the strong pull of light in the top left, balanced with the rocks lower right. Failure is a great teacher.
Remember the tools are here to serve us, and not the other way around. Knowing and understanding this is not enough, you must apply it in real life – maybe the next time you go out to make photographs. I hope these thoughts and ideas are helpful, thanks as always for reading!