Words and images by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays.
The right light is an interesting concept. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad weather – only different types of lighting. I get annoyed at the number of articles that say you can only take effective and creative landscape photographs in the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. To me, that leaves a whole chunk of the day with a camera sitting unused in a bag!
It's Wet Out!
Certainly though, certain subjects work better in a particular lighting conditions and when the rain is hammering on my office window I'm fairly happy to be sitting in front of the computer rather than trying to capture landscape photographs!
That said, I have been at the side of Buttermere in torrential rain and high winds, and still managed to work with the conditions, in fact, the extremely limited visibility that the heavy rain provided a really pastel picture, picking out the birch tree in the foreground yet still just allowing a hint of the Buttermere pines at the other end of the lake. Another picture taken in very heavy rain is the autumn birch at Hodge Close. This is a tree I have photographed many times before, but until this day I never really managed to separated it from its background. Only on this particularly wet day (and I was standing only about three feet from the car), did the heavy rain isolate the tree from its background.
Mist and fog also create ideal light for pastel, almost painterly pictures, easily isolating foreground elements from the background; and while these conditions are certainly more prevalent early morning, they can happen at other times.
Heavy snowfalls can also create monotoned, isolated elements, even resulting in pen-and-ink style pictures.
The Sun's Out
When the sun does shine though, make the most of the textures, shadows and lighting angles; and even that doesn't always mean early or late in the day, I have a number of Lake District locations where the sun offers excellent graze lighting, really bringing out the textures of barn walls or dry-stone walls even in the middle of the day, for example, with the barn image – before 12 noon, the lighting is too equal on the front and side of the barn, giving no modelling. After 1pm, the sun has moved round so the front of the barn is in shadow, meaning the best lighting is between 12 and 1, or the time of day that so many books suggest you put your camera away and stop photographing!
Black Crag barn 12.45pm.
The best way to know where the sun works best in any location is to know the location well, and photograph it regularly; ideally even knowing which month offers the best elevation as well as angle of the sun. If you're new to a location check on a map – remembering that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Even Google maps can provide some help if there is a road anywhere near your chosen location. Computer-based maps can give a good idea of terrain and are sometimes easier to realise the contours than a traditional map.
Certainly early and late in the day offers low lighting angles which can naturally create longer shadows, but to truly reap the benefits, you need to either have side-lighting or even be shooting into the sun.
Evening shadows above Ambleside.
By all means, plan some of your shots before you go out, but always be ready to adapt to the conditions - don't come back without any photos because the light wasn't exactly what you had planned, but adapt to the lighting that's there. Only by doing that will you train your eyes to see opportunities that otherwise would be so easy to miss.
Words and images by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays