Photographers are always looking for the "right" light to enhance their subjects, whether it be a portrait, landscape or product shoot. In landscape photography, for instance, we're always looking to the "golden" light around the time of sunrise and sunset to give our images that "wow factor." Sometimes, however, due to constraint of time, we have to learn to make the best use of the light we are given. This was the case when I recently visited Valley of Fire State Park in the Mojave Desert north of Las Vegas, Nevada.
I knew I had not even two days to spend in this geological wonder and photographic playground. I was interpreting that to mean one sunset and one sunrise opportunity to catch the really great light — that is if the weather cooperated. Well, the weather did cooperate, and I got my morning and sunset shots. But those are such fleeting moments that it's almost impossible to get to more than one or two locations illuminated by the light of sunrise and sunset before it vanishes. So what would I do with myself the rest of the day, I wondered. I figured I'd spend the rest of the day scouting out sunrise and sunset locations. Well, I did that, but I found myself getting the best shots in the middle of day, which is when all the experts say you might as well go find a hammock and catch up on your sleep because the light will be too bright and contrasty for making fine images.
This is where the morale of my story makes its entry. If you spend enough time in a place using "photographer's eyes," you might just find how to use the available light to your advantage. Using photographer's eyes means not just looking, but really seeing and connecting with the landscape. The thing that I noticed about the Valley of Fire as I became familiar with it by traveling around its interior roads, is that the bright light of mid-day actually enhances the vividness of the colors in the Aztec and Navajo sandstone formations. Bright light really brought out some great things in the landscape, like the bands of yellow, rust, red, purple, gold and lavender colors. The one caveat was that it only seemed to work if you pointed the camera at the landscape with your back to the sun. This is called frontal lighting, and it enabled me to get some very compelling images without the heavy contrast you usually get from deep shadows at mid-day with side-lighting.
First, I was glad to be able to get "to know" the Valley of Fire well enough to recognize this about it. Second, I was pleased to see that my years of training in the Japanese martial art of aikido still prepares me in many ways in life to go with the flow of events.
As therapist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl once observed:
"When you're faced with a situation that you cannot possibly change, your challenge is to change yourself."
"Ring of Fire"
"Confluence of Land & Sky"
"Cactus & Monolith"