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Waiting for the Light!

Light is all important in every genre of photography.  In some ways we take light for granted, and often don’t distinguish between the many different qualities of light.  Developing a greater awareness of light and the way it behaves is one of the best ways to take our photography to a new level.

barn and wildflowers

When we’re taking photographs outdoors, we don’t usually have any control over the natural light.  Unless we have the luxury of enough time to wait for the light to change, we have to make the best of the prevailing conditions at the time that we are there.  However, on a day with a mix of clear blue sky and puffy white clouds, and a good wind to keep things moving, we may have a better opportunity to choose how to use the light which we have.

Imagine that you’re photographing a wide landscape view, and that in the sky above it is a scattering of medium sized clouds.  The sun is high in the sky.  Because the sun is above the clouds, each one will have its own shadow falling somewhere on the landscape underneath.

Now is your opportunity to be a lighting director!  Where in the landscape would you like the cloud shadows to fall?   Which part of the view would you like to stand out in sunlight against a darker, shadowed backdrop?  And looking at the sky and the direction the clouds are moving in, is there any chance that this might happen in the next five or ten minutes?

When I first arrived at this field in the Yorkshire Dales, the entire scene was brightly and equally lit – the barn, the flowers in front of it, and also the hillside behind it.  There were plenty of fast moving clouds in the sky, so I decided to wait and see whether one of them would move into a position where it would cast a shadow on the hillside behind the barn.  After a short wait, one of the clouds arrived in the hoped-for place, and the hillside fell into shadow, which meant that the barn and flowers had much more impact in the photograph, being brightly lit against the darker backdrop.

Sometimes you will be lucky with the arrangement of the clouds, and sometimes you won’t.  But it’s never too much of a hardship to stand in a beautiful landscape and wait in hope!

Geoff Harris

I am a photography journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill, Steve McCurry and the late Mary Ellen Mark. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time.

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