Monday, February 27, 2012
Make The Most Of Great Light—02/27/12
In order to make the perfect picture, you’ve got to wait for the perfect light. Then wait some more.
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1. Arrive early. Whatever you’re shooting, architecture or landscapes or portraits, at sunrise or at sunset, you’ve got to get there early. Way earlier than you think, in fact. I arrived for my shoot a good hour before it would be time to pull the trigger. And I waited around and watched the light. It went from boring to slightly less boring, before suddenly things started to get interesting.
2. Keep shooting. Even though the light wasn’t yet great, I still made pictures. I did this every so often while the light changed, because there’s only one way to know when the light has peaked—and that’s when you realize it after it has peaked. You can’t go back and redo the sunset, so you’ve got to keep shooting the whole time.
4. Keep shooting. Just like before the light got good, when it starts to get great you’ve got to really keep shooting. And then shoot some more.
5. Be careful with bracketing. The time period for the perfect balance between building lights, ambient and the glow in the sky may last only a few seconds or a minute. It will be fleeting, so it is possible that you can miss it even if you keep shooting. How? By tweaking your exposures so much that you bracket yourself out of a keeper. The light itself is changing, so there shouldn’t be a lot of reason to bracket. In my case, I did want to ensure that I got good light trails in the foreground, so I made sure that I kept my shutter speeds long. I also knew I didn’t need a ton of depth of field, so I was free to work with my lens’ sharpest aperture—which I knew from experience to be f/11. So I set the aperture as a constant, and only made subtle changes to the shutter speed in hopes of creating the perfect balance of motion blur and ambient exposure.
7. Review your photos. I find that looking at thumbnails at a glance provides an ideal indicator of approximately where the sweet spot for lighting occurred. You can see it in the take, as it progresses from bright and boring through colorful and dramatic to dark and contrasty. Narrow in on the perfect exposures, and then it’s just a matter of choosing the one with the ideal combination of ancillary benefits and ambient beauty. In my case, that was a bright and beautiful taillight blur that helped bring the shot together, and which balanced wonderfully with the deep blue sky.
All things considered, this approach does take some time, but it also ensures that you’ll get the shot at the perfect time, when the beautiful light is at its peak.