Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Photographing Reflected Light

Photography is all about light and SEEING the light. The ability to notice unusual lighting and have the ability to capture it compositionally, separates the snapshooters from the true photographers. Rarely, is it possible to make a photograph in mid-day bright sun, as the light causes subject matter to end up too contrasty. Try squinting your eyes while looking at potential subjects under bright sun and you can simulate what your picture will look like - nothing but patchy darks and highlights. That's why most successful landscape photographers shoot in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. Back in November, I explained why photographing forests in overcast weather is much preferred than with direct sun. This time, let's cover capturing reflected light. This is especially useful when photographing the desert landscape. This is also a great technique when photographing the sandstone formations in Garden of the Gods, and I'll show you some examples. Primarily, I'm looking for areas where the sun's light is reflected back on the rocks.

Here's a classic example where the North Gateway wall was reflecting onto the South Gateway wall near the petroglyph area. Because this was photographed in April, the trees were leafless and provided a nice graphic design. This occurred just after sunrise and is one of my favorite images of 2011.

One of my earliest instructors and colleagues, Weldon Lee, told us, "whenever you see water, think REFLECTION" and I've taken this to heart. I'm normally photographing early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky. During our annual "Eagles & Ice" tour, we generally find ourselves along the South Platte River as it rushes along the canyon. Very often, sunlight will strike the sandstone cliffs and reflect into the water, as in the following images.

Because the image above was photographed in the shade, the snow casts a bluish tint, contrasting well with the golden reflection in the water. I tried to frame the water with the snowbanks.

Here's another example showing the contrast between the blue ice and golden reflection in the water as it races along in ever-downward cascades. I used a slow shutter speed (1/8-sec) to show motion in the water.

Taken in the shade, but reflecting the cool shadowed light from the canyon walls, this patch of ice crystals was taken with a 100mm macro lens from a distance of 12 inches. The crystals are very delicate and about an inch long.

Moving now to the area near Crystal, Colorado, we found ourselves deep within an aspen forest well after sunset. The faint glow in the sky was all it took to backlight this grove. Some of my very best landscapes have been taken well before sunrise or well after sunset. The digital imagers on today's DSLRs are very sensitive and tend to pick up colors better than the human eye can capture.

Here's another image taken at the Crystal Mill/Pumphouse. It was a late fall afternoon and after walking down the hillside to the Crystal River, I noticed that by getting down low to the ground, I was able to capture an astounding reflection of the fall colors in the river. I used a 1/4-second shutter speed to turn the water a bit "cottony", which smoothed the reflections. The camera was mounted just 18 inches from the ground with the closest boulders about a foot away. Amazingly, if one was to stand up along the river bank, the reflection would disappear.

Finally, moving now to the west coast of Oregon at Indian Beach, we arrived just in time for sunset. In surveying the area, I noticed a very shallow portion of the beach where a small creek was running into the ocean. I knew this would afford a large reflecting surface and I carefully aligned the framing so the rocky cliff and creek ended right at the corners. By the time the sky lit up, I was ready to capture the event.

I hope these examples have given you the desire to consider adding reflected light to your photographic repertoire. Always keep an eye out for these sometimes subtle  - and many times, intimate - landscapes!

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